New study busts open the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids

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In the past, omega-3 Fats have been treated as a cure-all, aiding in improving work performance, making better decisions, fighting seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and more. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods like salmon, mackerel, trout, mussels, some nuts, and seeds, and can also be found in supplement form.

But a new study, published by the British Journal of Cancer, shows that omega-3 fats may not have as drastic of an effect as we all thought.

Omega-3 fats are actually not helpful for avoiding cancer

The new study revealed that there is virtually no benefit to omega-3 consumption in regards to cancer.

Not only that, but the research also found that omega-3 supplements may actually increase a man’s risk of getting prostate cancer. The research did find that omega-3 may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  Both effects, when observed, were minimal.

According to the study’s calculations, if 1,000 people consistently took omega-3 supplements for four years, only about three people would avoid getting heart disease, six people would escape a heart attack, and an extra three men would get prostate cancer.

“Our previous research has shown that long-chain omega-3 supplements, including fish oils, do not protect against conditions such as anxiety, depression, stroke, diabetes or death,” said lead author Dr. Lee Hooper, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, in a release.

The research examined 47 previous trials that included individuals who either had no cancer, were at an increased risk of cancer or had previously been diagnosed with cancer. Another 86 trials that involved cardiovascular cases or deaths. In all, there were 100,000 people who were randomly advised to either up their intake of long-chain omega-3 fats or maintain their usual regiment for a year.

After a year, the researchers tracked the number of people in both groups who passed away, were diagnosed with cancer, or suffered a heart attack or stroke.

“These large systematic reviews included information from many thousands of people over long periods,” Hooper said. “This large amount of information has clarified that if we take omega 3 supplements for several years we may very slightly reduce our risk of heart disease, but balance this with very slightly increasing our risk of some cancers. The overall effects on our health are minimal.”

What does this mean for foods rich in omega-3s?

“The evidence on omega-3 mostly comes from trials of fish oil supplements, so health effects of oily fish, a rich source of long-chain omega 3, are unclear,” Hooper said. “Oily fish is a very nutritious food as part of a balanced diet, rich in protein and energy as well as important micronutrients such as selenium, iodine, vitamin D and calcium – it is much more than an omega 3 source.”

Hooper believes the high demand for fish oil tablets is an issue, given the lack of results tying them to helping prevent cancer, in addition to the heavy toll that industrial fishing extracts from the environment and overall fish populations.

So what are the actual omega-3 fats benefits?

According to Mayo Clinic, omega-3 fatty acids can have the following benefits:

  • Reduction in risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Modest reduction in blood pressure.
  • Reduction in blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
  • Reduction in pain for those with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Reduction in blood clotting.
  • Reduction in irregular heartbeats.