DHA and Prostate Cancer

On April 27, Dr. Neal Barnard of PCRM wrote about a study, the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial (1), which found that men with a higher percentage of DHA in their blood had a higher risk of high grade prostate cancer (Omega-3 Fatty Acids Linked to Prostate Cancer Risk). Dr. Barnard’s article also suggested that eating fish (the primary source of DHA for most people) five times or more a week could cause type 2 diabetes. People have written me asking if this means they should stop taking DHA supplements.

Based on the results from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial (PCPT) and some other studies, it is probably safe to conclude that large amounts of DHA do not prevent prostate cancer, but I think it is too soon to say that large amounts causes it. There are many variables when comparing percentages of fatty acids and disease, and the results tend to be all over the map. For example, the report from PCPT also found that the dreaded trans fats were inversely linked to high grade prostate cancer.

The levels of DHA in the blood of the men who had a higher rate of prostate cancer in the PCPT were >3.3% (compared to the lowest category of ≤2.6%), whereas vegans tend to have much lower levels of DHA, typically about 1% (see Omega-3 Fatty Acid Recommendations for Vegetarians).

DHA (and EPA) are normally promoted for reducing heart disease, but that is only a minor reason why I promote it for vegans. Vegans have much lower levels than omnivores and my concern is getting enough DHA for nerve tissue to function optimally. The amounts I recommend are much lower than what are typically suggested for fish oil supplements (usually 500 mg per day or more). I would not recommend taking that much DHA, EPA, or a combination.

It is still a good idea for vegans to take DHA at the rate of 200 to 300 mg every 2 to 3 days. The recent research does give me some pause in continuing to recommend 200 to 300 mg per day for those over 60 years old, cutting that down to every other day might be prudent. Unfortunately, there is no research showing how much these amounts of DHA will raise blood levels of DHA in vegans, but based on related research, I do not think it is enough to raise it much above 2%, which would still put someone in the lowest category of DHA percentage from the PCPT trial.


1. Brasky TM, Till C, White E, Neuhouser ML, Song X, Goodman P, Thompson IM, King IB, Albanes D, Kristal AR. Serum Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk: Results From the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial. Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Apr 24. [Epub ahead of print] (Link)

6 Responses to “DHA and Prostate Cancer”

  1. DJ Says:

    Here is a great analysis of the study you’re referring to. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/fish-oil-prostate-cancer/
    Would like to hear your thoughts on the actual study design too. I think those of us interested in improving our health through nutrition really need help in the area of interpreting studies.

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:


    I think she makes a good point regarding using a % of fatty acids rather than an absolute amount. That did not seem ideal to me, either. But it’s probably a decent marker for how much DHA people on average are eating.

  3. rhelune Says:

    I still don’t use DHA supplements because of mitochondrial membrane peroxidation:

    What is your stance on it? It would be wonderful if you wrote a post specifically for vegan life-extensionists, people who practice calorie restriction with optimal nutrition.

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:


    To quote from the link you posted:

    > in fact, you’ll find that the only membrane FA that is really consistently negatively associated with lifespan is DHA, with EPA and AA making an occasional appearance.

    I was not aware of that (and I’m surprised to hear it, and a bit skeptical). Fish-eaters tend to do pretty well in studies of different diet groups, and I have only rarely seen DHA implicated in diseases where peroxidation would be a problem. Mostly, it has been neutral or protective (from what I’ve seen, anyway). It’s worth looking into more regarding mortality.

    Here is a meta-analysis of fish oil supplementation from 2008 that found, “Fish oil supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in deaths from cardiac causes but had no effect on arrhythmias or all cause mortality.”


  5. Jesse Says:

    Any thoughts on whether parents should be giving DHA/Omega-3 supplements to their kids? I’m giving them fish oil now but looking for a vegan alternative as I transition to veganism.

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:


    My recommendations are for vegan children, also. 200 to 300 mg of DHA every 2 to 3 days.

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