PUFAs

New Study: Will Omega-3s Boost Your Risk of Prostate Cancer?

Two yesterdays ago, I said I was going to “post this tomorrow.” On one hand, that didn’t happen. On the other hand, a one-day delay is still more timely than usual for me, so I’m counting this as a blogging victory. Whip out the kazoos!

As some of you’ve already seen, a major study came out this week with some unexpected findings about DHA, an omega-3 fat abundant in fish. The study linked high blood levels of DHA to aggressive prostate cancer (and trans fats to lower prostate cancer rates). To date, it’s the biggest fat-and-prostate-cancer study of its kind—which makes these findings all the more peculiar. Given the widespread use of fish oil supplements for quelling inflammation and boosting cardiovascular health, it’s a little spooky to think DHA is really a double-edged sword. But is this study really a slam against fish fat?

This analysis wound up as a guest post for Mark’s Daily Apple, so head over there to read the full thing:

Overall, the study itself isn’t too shabby—and the researchers readily admitted their findings surprised them. But this study is far from a harbinger of doom for seafood lovers. The take-home points, and some additional thoughts:

  • Serum fatty acids aren’t a perfect mirror of diet—and the men with higher levels of DHA weren’t necessarily eating more fish. In fact, it seems low-fat diets can actually increase DHA status in the blood the same way omega-3 supplementation can.
  • The “highest levels of serum DHA” reported here were based on percentage of fatty acids—not absolute value. Here’s a great explanation of why percentage-based measurements may be misleading in studies like these.

Another major study, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, also found a slight (but non-statistically-significant) link between prostate cancer and DHA levels in the bloodbut at the same time, found zero association between dietary fish fat and the disease. And as I wrote in the post on Mark’s Daily Apple, nearly all previous studies have shown fish consumption to have either a neutral or protective association with prostate cancer. Blood levels of DHA and dietary intake don’t seem to follow the same pattern in relation to this disease.

That said: I’m pretty weary of long-term mega-dosing of fish oil for other reasons. Thanks to all their double bonds, omega-3s are relatively unstable and prone to oxidation, just like other polyunsaturated fats. It’s quite possible that the anti-inflammatory benefits appearing short term could eventually collide with a new set of problems that take longer to appear: those stemming from oxidative stress. Moderate supplementation probably won’t cause harm, but regularly taking huge doses of fish oil should probably be done with caution. The best strategy for achieving a great omega-3/omega-6 ratio is reducing your intake of high-omega-6 foods like grains and industrial oils, rather than simply chugging back more omega-3 to compensate.

Edit: Paul at Perfect Health Diet has a more technical discussion of omega-3s, angiogensis, and cancer that does make DHA seem a little fishy. Highly worth reading!

Advertisements

The New USDA Dietary Guidelines: Total Hogwash, and Here’s Why

A few days ago, the USDA finally unveiled their (fashionably late) 2010 dietary guidelines—the first update they’ve made since 2005. Are you as excited as I am? Can we live without bread yet? Leave the fat on our dairy? Ditch the rancid vegetable oils? Gobble down butter and coconut oil without fearing imminent death? By golly, has the USDA finally pulled its head out of the soybean fields and given us something useful, emerging as a reliable authority instead of a food industry puppet?

Nah.

Contrary to my title, though, the new guidelines aren’t total hogwash. Just mostly. A few of their recommendations are passable, like these:

  • Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors. (Duh.)
  • Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors. (Duh.)
  • Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils. (Duh.)
  • Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium. (Yes!)

Unfortunately, the rest of the guidelines are the regurgitated—and often unsubstantiated—snippets we’re already inundated with. Case in point:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
  • Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.
  • Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
  • Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.

According to the guideline packet, these recommendations provide “information and advice for choosing a healthy eating pattern” and are “based on the most recent scientific evidence review.” If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you probably know by now that I’m weary of trusting second-hand interpretations—the original data often tells a different story than the mouths claiming to interpret it. So instead of taking the USDA’s word as gospel, why not see what they’re basing their recommendations on?

Luckily, the USDA has a Nutrition Evidence Library, where they’ve compiled the studies they used to create their latest guidelines. Let’s dig in. (more…)