“Risk” is the chance that something bad will happen—like catching a cold or getting viciously attacked by a Yorkie while walking down the street. Risk does not mean that something bad will definitely happen.
Maybe you've heard the news that fish oil (omega 3s) have now been shown to increase risk of prostate cancer by 43%. Does this mean you will have a 43% (43 out of 100 people) chance of getting it? No. I personally have zero chance of getting that one, but we women have other issues. I'll spare you the details.
Although there are many statistics out there, the general thought is that 1 of every 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, or 15 of every 100 men, or 150 of every 1000 men. Now add to that a 43 % increased risk and you come up with 214 in every 1000, or 21 in every 100, or 1 in 5 (instead of one in 7).
Now, how do you decide if you should take fish oil or not? Let's look at some of my notes from the studies. (All of my data comes from a very respected source, UpToDate):
- In summary, the evidence indicates that fish oil consumption lowers blood pressure by approximately 2to 5 points and lowers the heart rate by 1.5 beats per minute.
- In patients with heart failure, studies show some improvements in the pumping action of the heart. Otherwise, I could find no compelling evidence for it from a cardiac standpoint.
- In diabetes, there were no overall benefits of fish oil.
- No change in stroke risk.
- The use of fish oil supplements to lower triglyceride levels should not be a first line treatment. The studies I read state the dose was at least 3000 mg daily to lower trigs by 50 percent (there they go with statistics again). Other medications and lifestyle changes (sigh) should be tried first.
- In 2012, an analysis of studies totaling over 60,000 subjects indicates there was no significant reduction in mortality by taking fish oil supplements, but other studies say "maybe some benefit" but mostly in those with known heart disease.
The bottom line, again not my personal opinion or advice, but in summary from UptoDate is to take no more than 250 mg daily of fish oil, because above that there is no known benefit. There have been some retrospective (looking back) studies showing benefit, but I'm not convinced yet based on these published results. Let me add, if you have known coronary heart disease (stents/blockages) they say you may benefit by taking more. Talk to your cardiologist.
There is another option: eating two servings of fatty fish (not Long John Silvers fat) a week is just as beneficial, maybe more so. I don't know about you, but I can remember to eat a lot easier than I can remember to take a pill.
A serving of fish would be about 3.5 oz. In the list, the number of servings per week you'd need to equal 250mg is posted after each type of fish.
- Anchovy 1
- Herring, Atlantic 1
- Salmon -wild, not farm raised 1
- Bluefin tuna 2
- Atlantic mackerel 2
- Rainbow trout 2
- Striped bass 2
- Albacore tuna 3
- Sockeye salmon 4
- Carp 4
- Smoked salmon (lox) 4
- King mackerel 4
If you are considering whether to stop or start fish oil supplements, I hope this post helps rather than adding to the confusion.