As many of you know, the media recently had a field day reporting a study that they claimed demonstrated that “fish oil supplements cause cancer”.
Of course the study demonstrated no such thing, and in a recent blog post I explained why. But in view of all the publicity around this, I decided to talk to one of the most respected integrative health practitioners, Dr. Dean Raffelock, who also happens to be one of the top supplement formulators in the country.
Dr. Jonny: Dean, let’s get right to this study on omega-3s and prostate cancer. What’s your take?
Dr. Raffelock: I think they reached a new low in junk science. As you well know, no one in this study actually took fish oil, and the researchers weren’t monitoring fish intake or diet at all. This was a one-shot blood test with a population that was 80% obese, with 53% of the subjects with prostate cancer also being smokers. There were just so many different variables. And when you have a study that really wasn’t designed to look at what the thing they made conclusions about, it’s junk science.
The Japanese generally have in their diet 8 times the amount of omega-3 that we have in US; the Inuit certainly do; and both these people have profoundly less prostate cancer than we do in the US. Plus there are many, many studies that have intentionally looked at the correlation between omega 3 and prostate cancer and found that a robust amount of omega 3 actually reduces the risk of prostate cancer.
Dr. Jonny: OK we’ve got that out of the way. Now, I don’t think I need you to tell my audience about the virtues of fish oil and the multiple health benefits of omega-3s that have been demonstrated in literally thousands of studies done over four decades.
But there is something I do want to address with you, and that’s selection of a fish oil supplement. There’s so many out there, so many formulas, so many forms. What does the consumer need to know? What’s the gold standard for fish oil?
Dr. Raffelock: I would always recommend the “professional brands”, or the higher quality commercial brands. We want a brand that will test on a regular basis, and do whatever procedures are necessary to remove the heavy metals—mercury, cadmium, lead. You can actually call the top brands and ask for their latest certificate of analysis by an independent lab, which should show that there are zero heavy metals in the fish oils, and that PCBs, other environmental toxins, bacterial counts, etc are zero or very close to zero.
Dr. Jonny: What about rancidity?
Dr. Raffelock: Look, fish oils can go rancid, at least without antioxidants. And there’s a good deal of evidence that rancidity increases all kinds of inflammation, including cancer. Really good quality fish oils have at least three antioxidants, like some form of vitamin E, rosemary oil, fat soluble vitamin C. Often the better companies will flavor with lemon or orange oil which are also antioxidative.
Do the good old fish oil taste test: Take the pearl, bite into it, swish it around and leave it in your mouth for 30 or 40 seconds.. and it should taste pretty good, almost a drop sweet. But if it has that bitter back bite, it’s rancid. And that’s not something that we want making up our cell membranes of our brain cells and all the other cells in our bodies.
Dr. Jonny: Examples of top brands?