Reaction to last week’s study linking omega-3 with prostate cancer have been vociferous and near-unanimous in condemning its methods and conclusions. Here Alan Ruth, PhD, and CEO of the Irish Health Trade Association (IHTA), explains why that condemnation was justified and not just sourced from an industry concerned with defending its own patch. Read full article here.
Obviously, the big news of this past week in the world of omega-3s is a study published claiming that “omega-3s cause prostate cancer.” I have had friends and family call, text, stop me in person, and email their concerns about what is clearly a headline grabbing ploy by the press to make a huge deal out of poorly designed manuscript masquerading as a scientific publication.
First of all, the study did not look at omega-3 supplementation, but was a look at if there is an association between Vitamin E and selenium and cancers (including lung, colorectal, and prostate). The manuscript was done looking retrospectively at people with prostate cancer and what their omega-3 levels were at a single point in time. When I did a study looking at omega-3 levels and documented suicide, I was very careful not to conclude that low omega-3 levels CAUSE suicide because that would not be a true statement. Low omega-3 levels measured were ASSOCIATED with a 62% increase risk they came from a suicide, but there is absolutely NO WAY POSSIBLE to conclude a causal relationship. These researchers and the press that followed obviously did not feel the need to adhere to such ethical parsing of words in order to grab headlines. Come on, the study showed a possible increase of prostate cancer had a confidence interval of 0-192%!!!!
I am always amazed, though I’m not sure why, when the press blow things out of proportion about a study demonstrating their complete lack of understanding of scientific studies. I could go into details for a long time, but let me just say clearly that this case-control study was not designed to look at the question in which the researchers draw their incorrect conclusions. In the worst case, there may be an association between higher omega-3 levels and prostate cancer, but to conclude that omega-3s cause prostate cancer? Really??? Given that the study was a single snapshot looking at if someone has prostate cancer and what their omega-3 blood level was at that moment, it is completely reasonable to state that prostate cancer causes higher omega-3s in the blood. Or that people with prostate cancer increased their fish or supplement intake because it is fairly well known that omega-3s may be helpful in cancer due to their anti-inflammatory properties. But that is not what catches headlines.
Not sure which argument you might want to use, but the biggest one is that it was a study not designed to look at this question and the investigators completely drew conclusions from data that don’t support their conclusions. So which argument do you want? You mean besides that it is a poorly designed evaluation of data from a totally different study never designed to look at prostate cancer and omega-3s and should have never been published? Or the part where countries and societies that have the most fish intake actually have the lowest rates of all cancers including prostate? Or that there is specific research designed to actually look at that question and everyone of those studies shows decreased rates of cancer? Or that this same study also showed that there are higher rates of prostate cancer in nonsmokers and nondrinkers (so should we recommend everyone drink, smoke, and stay away from fish?)?
One rebuttal can be found at: http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Experts-slam-omega-3-link-to-prostate-cancer-as-overblown-scaremongering. A more scientific-oriented review can be found at http://examine.com/blog/fish-oil-and-your-prostate .
What we do know is that omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and well known and documented to decrease overall and cardiovascular mortality, the incidence of cancer, heart disease, and have a positive benefit on brain health especially in the absence of brain health. What is really sad is how many people will decrease their intake of fish or stop their supplementation because of ridiculous studies/reporting like this. How much additional suffering will occur because of it?
One of the biggest problems is persuading people to eat more healthy fat in their diet. Fat has unfortunately been demonized by mass media, and even by medical practitioners, who claim that fat is bad for our health. That is only half the truth. Bad fats will make us gain weight and lead to many common disorders like high blood pressure but good fats are a vital part of our health. Read full article.
A survey shows that depression and other psychiatric disorders are common after a head injury.
Previous research has suggested that depression may be a complication of traumatic brain injury (TBI), but the issue has not been extensively investigated. Researchers at the University of Iowa compared 91 patients with TBI with 27 patients who suffered multiple trauma, but without any nervous system involvement. They found that a third of the patients had clinical depression during the year after their injury. This was far more frequent than in the control group. Those with TBI and depression were more likely to have a history of mood and anxiety disorders than those who had TBI without depression.
Of the patients with TBI and depression, 77 per cent also reported anxiety and 57 per cent exhibited aggressive behavior. Major depression was also linked to poorer social functioning six and twelve months after the injury. Brain scans also revealed a reduced level of gray matter in this group.
The weight loss benefits associated with omega-3 have been well-documented in the past, but can it actually deter our cravings for junk food? Researchers from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Aging and Chronic Disease examined 185 research papers dealing with fish oil’s effect on weight loss and neurogenesis, the process that generates nerve cell growth. Read full article.
The horrible events of the Boston Marathon are etched into our psyche that gives America a glimpse into what our military has faced every day for the past eleven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. One thing that worries me as a retired Army physician when I see injured soldiers –or a victim of terrorism—are the wounds I cannot see. If an IED blast was enough to cause the loss of a limb, it probably had enough energy to affect the brain causing a traumatic brain injury or TBI. These are the wounds we don’t see but may lead to personal challenges now or later. Such unseen brain injuries also are now a growing issue on the football and soccer fields around the country.
There are no magic pills or cures for TBI and it is unlikely there ever will be. YET, we must move forward.
Unfortunately, our medical system was formed around successes in fighting infectious diseases – one diagnosis: one drug. It hasn’t changed and adjusted to modern problems. The system does poorly dealing with complex situations such as TBI that present entirely different sets of challenges with a constellation of symptoms. Western medicine’s adaptation has been – one symptom : one drug – rather than addressing the underlying situation. The medical community needs to refocus on the whole patient, not relying on trying to find a single magic cure that will never exist. Instead, we paralyze ourselves waiting for that magical golden randomized clinical trial to prove that one drug will cure TBI. It isn’t going to happen, ever.
If it is essential to have omega-3 fatty acids to make a brain in utero, it reasons that they can be helpful to repair a brain after it has been injured. It is like a brick wall that’s been damaged. Wouldn’t you want to use bricks to repair the wall? Omega-3s, Decosahexanoic Acid (DHA) in particular, are literally the building blocks—the bricks–of the brain neuron cell wall. I’ve spent much of the past couple of years working to get that point across, first to the military, and since I retired, to the general public. I have to say, the progress in educating people, the medical community in particular, has been both slow and frustrating.
It turns out that Americans are generally very deficient in their omega-3 levels because of changes to the food chain that have occurred over the last half century. When Dr. Joe Hibbeln at the NIH and I did a rigorous evaluation of active duty military suicides, we came to two serious conclusions: in the blood samples we evaluated (800 documented suicides plus 800 well matched controls), omega-3 levels were profoundly low in the overwhelming majority of them; and even with the low levels, there was a 62% increased risk of suicide! We have no way of knowing how many of these were the result of a TBI because there are usually many factors involved in a suicide, but I’m sure some were.
There are good reasons to be concerned about low omega-3 levels in such brain injuries. They have a major influence on our immune systems. They keep inflammation under control when there is an injury and nowhere is that more important than in our brains. With the advent of corporate farming and subsidies to produce soybean and corn, our food supply has changed so much since the Second World War that our bodies are swimming in omega-6s, the highly inflammatory cousins of omega-3s.
We have learned there are no easy answers. When the medical system talks about “treatment” for TBI and concussion, this is a misnomer. What is called treatment is diagnostic testing and a “prescription” for rest – to allow time to heal the wounds. But there are other steps that can help. Several therapies including nutrition, omega-3 fatty acids, neuro-cognitive rehab, hyperbaric oxygen, and others, can have enormous impact, not to cure TBI, but to optimize the brain’s opportunity to heal itself and give a patient the best opportunity to regain as much function as possible. We must take these steps now.
Michael Lewis, MD, MPH, MBA, FACPM, is a retired Army Colonel and President of the Brain Health Education and Research Foundation (www.brainhealtheducation.org) which he founded in late 2011 to educate patients, parents, and providers focusing on optimizing health following a TBI. He is in private practice in North Bethesda, Maryland.
Increased intakes of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA may counter the alleviate oxidative stress in older people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), says a new study from Malaysia. Read full article.
The eyes may be the window to the soul, but researchers are finding they also provide a view into the brain that could help detect neurological damage from bomb blasts, sports concussions and a wide range of diseases, including Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Read full article.
U.S. researchers say a Mediterranean diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in red meat and dairy may help reduce the risk of “cognitive impairment.”
The study, outlined in the latest issue of Neurology, the American Academy of Neurology’s official journal, examined the mental abilities of more than 17,000 people consuming varying diets. Researchers found that those subjects who followed a Mediterranean diet more regularly experienced a decreased risk of memory loss of as much as 19%.
The key to the Mediterranean diet is omega-3 fatty acids found most notably in fish oil and other marine and plant oils. The potential memory-saver is also found is flax seed, walnuts and pulses.