Fish Oil Supplements Tied to Improved Male Fertility

Linda Carroll wrote . . . . . . . . .

Men who consume fish oil supplements, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, might get a boost in fertility, a new study suggests.

After examining data from nearly 1,700 young men, researchers determined that fish oil supplement consumption was associated with a higher sperm count, larger testes and improved levels of hormones that contribute to male fertility, according to the report published in JAMA Network Open.

While all men could benefit from adding omega-3 fatty acids to their diets, the biggest impact would be in those with poor sperm quality, said study coauthor Tina Kold Jensen, a professor at Rigshospitalet and the University of Southern Denmark, in Odense.

That’s because these types of fatty acids are essential to fertility, Jensen said in an email.

“The composition of the sperm cell membrane with rich fatty acid content is critical for proper sperm function,” Jensen explained. “The sperm cell membrane plays a critical role in the key fertilization events. Omega-3 in the sperm membrane increases as the sperm matures and it cannot be synthesized . . . in humans and needs to come from diet.”

To explore the possibility that fish oil and other nutrients might impact male fertility, Jensen and her colleagues approached men between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2017 who were undergoing physical exams as part of Denmark’s military conscription procedures.

The men were invited to participate in a study of testicular function and those who signed on were given an appointment for an examination and compensated with 500 Danish krone ($74.23).

During their appointments, the men filled out a questionnaire, underwent a physical exam, delivered a semen sample and had blood drawn. They were asked about diet, vitamins or dietary supplements, lifestyle and health issues, and specifically about testicular health issues, such as inguinal hernias, and about sexually-transmitted diseases.

The men were also asked about alcohol consumption, tobacco and marijuana use, and whether their mothers had smoked during pregnancy.

When Jensen and her colleagues analyzed their data, they found that men who had consumed fish oil supplements on fewer than 60 days in the past three months had semen volume that was 0.38 mL higher than those who took no supplements. Men who consumed fish oil on 60 or more days during that period had semen volume that was 0.64 mL higher than men not using the supplements.

Similarly, compared to those who did not take supplements, testicular size in men who consumed fish oil on fewer than 60 days was 0.8 mL larger and among those who consumed it for 60 days or more it was 1.5 mL larger.

Men who consumed fish oil also had higher numbers of sperm than those who did not take the supplements. In addition, they had higher percentages of sperm that swam straight ahead, as opposed to in circles, for example, and that had healthier shapes overall.

The new study is interesting since it looked at men from the general population who were young and healthy, said Albert Salas-Huetos, a researcher in the urology, andrology and IVF unit at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, who wrote an editorial accompanying the new study.

“Because it’s an observational study you can’t say that there is a causal relationship between fish oil supplements and testicular function,” Salas-Huetos said. “But it’s a good starting point that might (spur) others to do a well-designed randomized controlled trial.”

Until such a study is done, no recommendations can be made about fish oil and fertility, Salas-Huetos said.

Source: Reuters


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Probiotics: Don’t Buy the Online Hype

Serena Gordon wrote . . . . . . . . .

Many people turn to the internet with health questions, but how reliable is the information you find? When it comes to probiotics, a new study urges caution.

The research found that of 150 websites that came up with a search of probiotics, most were commercial sites, hoping to sell a product. Others were news sites or health portals (providing links to other sites). Many of these sites mentioned potential benefits of probiotics, though not all had scientific evidence to back up those claims. And just 1 in 4 of the websites mentioned any potential side effects from taking probiotics.

“This study demonstrates that a number of online claims on the health benefits of probiotics are not supported by scientific evidence,” said study co-author Dr. Michel Goldman, a professor of immunology at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.

Probiotics are “good” bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods and in dietary supplements, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Some of these bacteria are also found naturally in the human body. They may help digest food, fight germs that can cause disease, or produce vitamins.

“Probiotics can clearly be helpful in the management of infectious diarrhea, in pregnant women with gestational diabetes, and as an adjunct to food allergy desensitization therapy,” Goldman said. He added that probiotics might also be helpful for the skin condition eczema and for some urinary or genital infections in women.

But his team saw some broad claims online about probiotics’ benefits, such as being beneficial in treating cancer. There’s no scientific evidence to support those claims.

For the study, Goldman and his colleagues looked at the first 150 pages brought up by Google in response to a search for “probiotics.” They reviewed the information on these pages for reliability and searched a large database of clinical trials for evidence supporting those claims.

One bright spot was that Google appears to prioritize more reliable sources of information over commercial websites.

Still, consumers should be wary of health information they get online.

“Consumers should look whether there is scientific information published in peer-reviewed medical journals supporting claims to probiotics and over-the-counter health products that are not regulated as rigorously as prescription drugs. They should discuss with their doctors, the benefits they can expect from probiotics,” Goldman said.

Dr. Melinda Ring, executive director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, said she wasn’t surprised by the findings.

“This is a big problem in the natural product and dietary supplement area. There’s a preponderance of less reputable information from sales and commercial sources,” said Ring, who wasn’t part of the research.

“People really need to look at the claims websites are making. Are they promising unrealistic cures? Are they referencing scientific data?” she said.

One area where probiotics may be helpful is in maintaining the body’s natural balance of beneficial bacteria — the gut microbiome. “We know the human microbiome is incredibly important to our health and the development of disease, but we’re just in the infancy of understanding how to manipulate the microbiome,” Ring said.

If you’re interested in improving your gut’s microbiome, the first place to start is improving your diet, because what you eat is also food for your microbiome, Ring said. Focus on vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

A number of foods have probiotics, such as yogurt and fermented foods. But sometimes the probiotics that occur naturally in foods can be destroyed by processing and preserving. Ring recommended looking for “live cultures” on the packaging.

If you take probiotic supplements, she suggested sticking with reputable brands, and perhaps taking more than one product to make sure you’re getting a diversity of probiotics.

Andrea Wong is senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), which represents the supplement industry. She said that research demonstrates that probiotics are safe and have health benefits.

“When it comes to reliable information on probiotics and other dietary supplements, doctors and other health care practitioners are the most trusted sources. CRN encourages consumers to be smart shoppers and do their due diligence when looking for dietary supplement information,” Wong said.

The findings were published in Frontiers in Medicine.

Source: HealthDay


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Testosterone Supplements Won’t Help Most Men, Doctors’ Group Says

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Testosterone therapy is no fountain of youth for older men, though it might help some who are impotent.

That’s according to new guidelines from the American College of Physicians — the first from the group to address the issue of treating age-related “low T.”

It’s known that men’s testosterone levels decline with age. And for years industry has promoted the idea that men suffer a range of symptoms caused by what’s sometimes described as “male menopause.” The list includes fatigue, weakness, muscle loss, dulled memory and thinking, depression, and dampened libido and erectile dysfunction.

Yet for nearly all of those problems, there is no good evidence testosterone therapy helps, the college found in a research review.

The only area where there is some benefit, the group says, is in treating sexual dysfunction. On average, studies have found “small improvements” in sexual and erectile function.

The lackluster performance in clinical trials is “a bit surprising,” said ACP president Dr. Robert McLean. But, he pointed out, the fact that testosterone wanes with age does not automatically mean that’s behind men’s health issues. And that means replacing testosterone will not necessarily help.

That never stopped manufacturers of supplemental testosterone, however. For years, they launched aggressive marketing campaigns warning men of the health effects of age-related declines of the male hormone.

Between 2009 and 2013, the number of U.S. men on testosterone shot up from 1.3 million to 2.3 million, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And most, the agency said, were not using it for an established indication — namely, certain medical conditions that cause testosterone deficiency.

Instead, they were using it to counter the aging process.

The tide has turned in more recent years. One study found that Americans’ testosterone use dropped substantially between 2013 and 2016 after questions were raised about the risks of heart disease or prostate cancer.

“The enthusiasm for it is less than it used to be,” said Dr. Victor Adlin, an endocrinologist from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Still, it remains something men ask about, Adlin said. He wrote an editorial published with the guidelines Jan. 7 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Two other medical groups — the Endocrine Society and the American Urological Association — have guidelines on treating age-related low testosterone, Adlin said. And they agree with the ACP on the central point: Testosterone might help some men with sexual dysfunction, but it should not be prescribed for vague symptoms like fatigue and low energy.

The ACP recommends trying injection testosterone over patches or other skin preparations. Both methods are similarly effective, McLean said, but injection therapy is far cheaper: $156 per year, versus $2,135, based on Medicare claims.

As for safety, the overall evidence from 20 studies suggests that testosterone does not raise the risks of heart problems, blood clots or prostate cancer, McLean said. Those studies followed men for up to 10 years, he added, so it’s not possible to say what the risks are beyond that.

How can men with sexual dysfunction know if they do, in fact, have low testosterone? Blood levels of the hormone should be measured on two separate days to confirm the results, Adlin said. And both should be done in the morning, he added. Testosterone levels fluctuate and are typically highest early in the day.

“If you have confirmed low levels, and your sexual symptoms are bothersome enough to need treatment, it’s reasonable to start testosterone,” Adlin said. “But don’t start it and forget it.”

The ACP says men should have their symptoms reevaluated within a year — and if they are not better, stop using testosterone. Adlin said the six-month mark can be a good time for that check-in.

Low testosterone is very common among older men, according to the ACP. It’s seen in 20% of U.S. men over age 60, 30% of those over age 70, and half of men older than 80.

But based on the evidence, only select men will gain any benefit from taking testosterone.

“It is not a fountain of youth,” McLean said.

Source: HealthDay


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Taking Some Dietary Supplements During Breast Cancer Chemo Tied to Recurrence, Death

Linda Carroll wrote . . . . . . . . .

Patients with breast cancer who use supplements during chemotherapy may be at an increased risk of recurrence and death, a new study suggests.

Use of dietary supplements that boost levels of antioxidants, iron, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids appeared to lower the effectiveness of chemotherapy, researchers report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“From this study and others in the literature, it seems that it may not be wise to take supplements during chemotherapy,” said Christine Ambrosone, chair of cancer prevention and control, and senior vice president for population sciences at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York.

“It’s thought that antioxidants might interfere with the ability of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells,” Ambrosone explained. “One way chemotherapy works is by generating lots of oxidative stress. The thinking is that antioxidants may block oxidative stress and make chemotherapy less effective.”

Doctors have been advising patients for a number of years not to take antioxidants during chemotherapy, Ambrosone said. “But there was no strong empirical data for that recommendation,” she added.

To take a closer look at whether supplement use might impact chemotherapy’s effectiveness, Ambrosone and colleagues analyzed data from the Diet, Exercise, Lifestyle and Cancer Prognosis study, which was piggybacked onto a trial designed to determine the best dose and schedule of chemotherapy drugs.

Participants were queried about their use of supplements at the outset and during treatment, and about their lifestyle, diet and exercise habits.

The researchers focused on 1,134 patients who filled out the surveys and followed them for a median of six years. In this particular group of patients, supplement use was much lower than is typical, Ambrosone said, with 20% taking supplements prior to starting chemo and 13% during the treatments.

After accounting for other factors that might increase the risk of recurrence or death, they found patients who took any antioxidant at the outset and during chemotherapy – including carotenoids, Coenzyme Q10 and vitamins A, C, and E – were 41% more likely to have their breast cancer return and 40% more likely to die during follow-up compared to patients using no supplements.

The findings were similar for most individual antioxidants taken before and during chemo, particularly vitamin A. But for the others, the results were not statistically significant, meaning the differences were too small to rule out the possibility they were due to chance. Ambrosone attributes this to the small numbers of patients taking these supplements.

Those taking B12 and iron supplements were at greater risk of recurrence and those results were statistically significant. Women taking B12 were 83% more likely to experience a recurrence and 22% more likely to die during follow-up compared to those who did not take those supplements. Women taking omega-3 supplements before and during chemo had a 67% higher likelihood of recurrence and those taking iron supplements were 79% more likely to experience a recurrence.

Previous research has suggested that iron “can play a role in both cancer initiation as well as promotion,” Ambrosone said.

Dr. Amy Tiersten welcomed the new research.

“I am really happy to see that this study has been done,” said Tiersten, a professor of medicine, oncology and hematology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “For years we have been cautioning patients about the use of vitamins, in particular anti-oxidants, during chemotherapy for breast cancer.”

“There has been ongoing theoretical concern about the fact that while antioxidants may protect normal cells from the toxic effects of chemo, we don’t know that they don’t also protect the cancer cells,” Tiersten said in an email. “Now we have solid data to back up that concern. I am a bit surprised by the magnitude of the effect, a 41% increase in the risk of recurrence for patients taking these supplements. I have always told patients on chemotherapy that the best way to get their vitamins is through a well-balanced diet and will continue to do so given these data.”

Source: Reuters


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Could Fish Oil Fight Inflammation?

Plentiful in foods like fish and flaxseed, omega-3 fatty acids have long been linked with cardiovascular health, and new research is looking at the biology behind how it might work.

A study published Thursday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation Research found fish oil supplements containing a specific formula of omega-3 fatty acids reduced inflammation by increasing the concentration of special molecule “mediators” that regulate the work of certain components in the blood.

“We used the molecules as our biomarkers to show how omega-3 fatty acids are used by our body and to determine if the production of these molecules has a beneficial effect on white blood cells,” said Dr. Jesmond Dalli, who conducted the study with colleagues at William Harvey Research Institute at Queen Mary University of London.

The researchers gave 22 healthy volunteers between the ages of 19 and 37 three different doses of an enriched fish oil supplement containing a mix of omega-3 fatty acids. They then tested participants’ blood at varying time intervals for levels of specific anti-inflammatory molecules that those fatty acids have been found to produce.

Researchers found the fish oil supplementation increased the level of the anti-inflammatory molecules for up to 24 hours. While it’s still unclear from the study if those molecules reduce cardiovascular disease, they do supercharge macrophages, specialized cells that destroy bacteria and eliminate dead cells. They also make platelets less sticky, potentially decreasing the formation of blood clots. The molecules also have been shown to play a role in tissue regeneration.

“These molecules have multiple targets,” Dalli said.

Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, led a study published early this year showing a prescription medication containing an omega-3 fatty acid called EPA (icosapent ethyl) significantly reduced heart attacks and strokes, as well as deaths from those causes, in people who already had cardiovascular disease or were at high risk for it. But he said there’s no good data showing regular supplements do the same.

“There have been large randomized clinical trials of thousands of people that have looked at omega-3 supplements, which have not found a benefit,” said Bhatt, who was not involved in the new study.

That’s in line with a 2019 science advisory from the AHA that cautioned people to avoid unregulated omega-3 supplements. A 2017 AHA advisory said while these supplements may slightly lower the risk of dying after a heart attack or heart failure, they don’t prevent heart disease.

A meta-analysis of past trials by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital also found an association between daily omega-3 supplementation and a reduced risk of death from heart disease. Higher doses appeared to provide the greatest benefits.

But there are more proven ways to improve cardiovascular health, Bhatt said. Instead of taking fish oil supplements, which are far less regulated by the Food and Drug Administration than prescription medications, he recommended people with cardiovascular disease talk with their doctors about proven treatments such as statins, physical activity and diet.

“There are things that really could help like exercising for an hour a day and adopting a diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” Bhatt said. “Maybe omega-3 fatty acids are part of the answer, but more research is needed before recommending supplements.”

Dalli said further research also is needed to discover if fatty acids have the same anti-inflammatory effects in people older than 45 and in those who already have cardiac disease. People with chronic inflammatory diseases, he noted, don’t produce the same number of these anti-inflammatory molecules that healthy people do.

“The enzymes that produce (the molecules) are not functioning adequately in these patients,” Dalli said. “It might be something that people take to stay healthy rather than something to treat a diseased patient.”

The proper formulation of fatty acids also remains to be determined. Currently, the FDA has approved two medications, one that contains EPA and another that contains a mix of EPA and DHA, and there are numerous supplements on the market with various formulations.

“We’re still far away from having the magic formula,” Dalli said. “Each person will need a specific formulation or at least a specific dosing, and that’s something we need to learn more about.”

Source: American Heart Association


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