Omega-3 Causes Cancer?! Something’s fishy…


Science News You Can (Carefully) Use

In the July 2013 Issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute there is an article suggesting an association between high levels of omega-3 fatty acid in the blood and an increased risk of prostate cancer.  A “ready for prime time” summary of the study appeared on the MSNBC website shortly thereafter.  The MSNBC story, penned by a “senior staff writer”, drew the following conclusion: As little as two servings of fish per week could increase your risk of prostate cancer.  There is so much wrong here that it is hard to know just where to begin.

Let’s take the easier problem first.  News writers are rarely scientists.  Science news stories are neither written nor produced as science per se, but rather as a means to entertain.  News writers for mass media are looking for drama, even if it means overlooking some very salient details, which is the case here.  This brings us to the second issue: drawing conclusions from research that just aren’t supported by the data.

Reasons why the above-referenced conclusion isn’t supported by the study’s research data.

  1. The original study was not designed to reach( or support) any of the conclusions in the article and the subsequent analysis of the article on
  2. Other studies, which were designed to determine if omega-3 fatty acids provided a protective benefit against prostate cancer, conflict with the findings of this study.  Want to know more?  Try this link:
  3. Association is not the same as causation.  Elevated omega-3 levels in men with prostate cancer is an association, it does not mean that the omega-3 caused the cancer.
  4. The study did not look at dietary or supplement intake by the subjects with cancer and is based on the results of a single blood test.
  5. Using plasma omega-3 levels (i.e., blood test) is a very unreliable method of measuring long-term omega-3 intake.  Takeaway: we really don’t know how much omega-3 the test subjects actually had in their system.
  6. Finally, here are just a few of the confounding factors that could have influenced the findings:
  • 53% of the subjects with prostate cancer were smokers;
  • 64% regularly consumed alcohol;
  • 30% had at least one first-degree relative with prostate cancer; and finally (my personal favorite)
  • 80% of the cancer subjects were overweight or obese.

What does it mean? Given the inconsistencies of this study and the broad range of health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acid consumption, there is no compelling reason to stop eating fish or taking omega-3 nutritional supplements on the basis of this study.  Do, however, make sure your fish is wild caught and that your omega-3 supplements are pure and of high quality.

Another takeaway: Science articles produced for mass media are written at about an eighth grade reading level (roughly the same as your local newspaper).  In order to keep the story simple, complex (but highly relevant) information is often left out in order to make the piece more “accessible” to the target audience.  While the headlines may seem exciting and scientific, the story that follows is all to frequently just exciting.

Final takeaway: If you’re going to use mass media as your source of health science information, make sure you’re up to speed on assessing the validity, reliability and relevance of the scientific studies being covered.  Don’t let an anonymous staff writer do your critical thinking for you.




I’m new at this so it’s going to take a little time to get this up and running — thanks for your patience.  There’s lots to share, so I’ll be organizing my posts into categories (hopefully).

Before I get to the organization of my blog, here’s some information about me.

Dr. Candice Cook, EdD, LPC, LMFT, CCN

I know, lots of letters.  Here’s what they mean.  I have a doctoral degree in Counseling. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  I am also a Certified Clinical Nutritionist with a Diplomate in Advanced Nutritional Laboratory Analysis.  What this means is that, in the course of my work with patients, I can run specific laboratory tests and analyses to help guide nutritional interventions.  I have been practicing individual, couple and family therapy in the Tidewater area for over 20 years.

My training and experience allow me to integrate a broad range of therapeutic and support interventions that are specifically tailored for my patient’s needs.  I specialize in women’s issues and mood disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  I also provide advanced nutritional analysis and individually tailored nutritional programs for clients with problems such as obesity, fatigue and diabetes.

In my practice, I work from the perspective that health and wellness are holistic in nature, meaning that physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing are all connected. This is the foundation of my work. My extensive and unique combination of training and experience allow me to provide truly holistic treatment and services to my patients.  I call this approach Integrative Therapy: The Convergence of Skill, Science and Soul©

Contact Information

Phone (appointments): 757-675-1720

Fax: 757-271-6111



Blog Organization

  • Boring But Important (with a nod to The Week magazine)  Here you will find my take on recent developments/headlines in the fields of psychology, health, nutrition, etc.  This section will probably focus mostly on areas of policy, regulation, etc. (hence the “boring” part of the title) but may also include current news items.  Your takeaway: Implications and suggestions for your efforts to achieve and maintain optimal health.
  • Science News You Can Use  Health science research headlines appear almost daily in mass media.  The intersection of health/medical research and media (particularly electronic media) can be a risky place.  In this section I try to get behind the drama of the headlines and the complexity of good research to bring you the bottom line.  Your takeaway: Reliable, science-based tips on how to improve your health and prevent disease.
  • Supplements*** 2.0  Regardless of the quality of your diet, there may be compelling reasons for you to consider nutritional supplements (nutraceuticals) as an adjunct to what you’re eating and/or taking for a particular health issue.  In reviewing nutraceuticals, my approach is to base my comments on valid and reliable research undertaken with the product along with my personal experience and the experience of my patients. I do not sell products from my website or this blog so this is not a commercial venture on my part.  Also, I never recommend anything that I have not successfully used either personally or with my patients.  Your takeaway: Supplement formulas backed by research that you may want to consider if you find yourself in the market for nutraceuticals.
  • Success Stories  The privacy of my patients is of paramount importance to me, so these “case studies” do not contain real names.  They do provide an overview of selected issues and problems that patients have successfully overcome while in treatment with me.  These stories are not intended as a prescription for similar problems that others may be experiencing, but rather as a source of inspiration and guidance for addressing such issues with a qualified health care professional.  Your takeaway: Fresh insight and encouragement for addressing similar health concerns.
  • What’s in Bloom  Many of my patients enjoy spending time in my garden, a project of many years, much love and great enjoyment.  Pics of current blooms will appear regularly.  Your takeaway: A moment or two of serenity.
  • Lee Darby   Yes, I know, excessive grandparental doting can be tedious so feel free to skip these charming, captivating, priceless photos/videos of the world’s most perfect grandson.  Your takeaway: Hopefully, a brief connection to your soul child.


***The statements and products referred to throughout this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or condition. Dr. Cook recommends consulting your medical doctor or alternative health care provider before modifying your diet, using any new product, nutritional supplement, or doing new exercises.