Omega-3 benefits in cancer have been studied by many scientists world over. These studies have found that docosahexanoic acid (DHA), found in fish oils and an omega-3 fatty acid reduces the size of tumors, helps to improve the effect of chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin and reduce the harmful side effects that it has. The study was performed by Professor A. M. El-Mowafy and his team at Mansoura University, Egypt. DHA is found in a few vegetable oils and in cold-water fish. Although the studies of DHA on many chronic diseases have been done, more information is required about its interaction with chemotherapy drugs.
Omega 3 Benefits in Cancer and Inflammation
Inflammation is the cause of many cancers and the reason is due to elevated levels of COX and LOX enzymes. Drugs taken to suppress and relieve pain also suppress the formation of cancer. These are called COX inhibitors and one such drug that has prevented the reappearance of adenoma cancer is Celebrex an anti-inflammatory drug. However, the major side effect of prolonged usage of Celebrex is an increased risk of heart diseases.
Omega-3 has excellent anti-inflammatory properties. This is one area where we can see omega-3 benefits in cancer for it can block both COX and LOX enzymes and therefore block several types of cancers too. The greatest advantage is that omega-3 fats have hardly any side effects. This is why the right dietary ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 is so critical. An excess of omega-6 will increase the tumor-creating process and at the same time suppress the capability of the body to get rid of tumor cells.
Omega-3 and Liver Cancer : There are promising studies that have shown the omega-3 benefits in cancer of the liver. Omega-3 can stunt the growth of cancer cells that affect the liver. One study was related to the effect of consumption of omega-6 and omega-3 fats on hepatocellular carcinoma cells that account for 90% of all forms of liver cancer and is fatal. Omega-3 taken as DHA and EPA can induce cellular death.
In the second study, it was found that omega-3 helped in the treatment of cholangiocarcinoma tumor cells. This is a fatal and quick spreading form of liver cancer that affects the bile ducts. Researchers who have studied liver cancer and its treatment in detail suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can provide an effective liver cancer treatment and also protect it from steatohepatitis (a chronic liver disease) that is a forerunner to liver cancer.
Omega-3 and Breast Cancer : Many studies have found that omega-3 benefits in cancer since it has many anti-inflammatory properties. One study suggests that a diet that contains animal-based omega-3 fats like EPA and DHA can reduce the risk of contracting breast cancer by 32%. A study in 2002 discovered that the 2 genes that keep breast cancer at bay – BRCA1 and BRCA2 are influenced by omega-3. Omega-3 keeps these genes functioning normally and since they are tumor suppressors, they prevent the development of breast cancer.
The research was started mainly because it was found that Inuit Eskimos of Greenland had low rates of prostate and breast cancer and this was linked to their diet rich in seafood – the best source of EPA and DHA. Hence, they developed a natural immunity to cancer cell growth.
A study of breast cancer patients in France found that a balance of 1:1 – 2.5:1 of omega-6 and omega-3 fats was what had the greatest impact on its prevention.
A major study that was published in 2005 at the meeting of ‘American Association for Cancer Research’ stated that mothers who consumed omega-3 rich foods during their pregnancy, continued when breastfeeding and gave their babies omega-3 rich foods could help reduce the risk of their daughters developing breast cancer when older. Maternal diets that contain more of omega-6 can lead to elevated levels of maternal estrogen that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer in female babies.
Omega-3 and Prostate Cancer : Diet rich in omega-6 can lead to increase in growth of tumor cells and it spreads into the bone marrow. Omega-3 fats can stop this spread and prevent the growth of prostate cancer cells in men. Prostate cancer is usually treatable if it is detected early and prevented from spreading. The way it works is that EPA and DHA curb the action of prostaglandin E2, which is triggered by arachidonic acid found in omega-6 rich foods.
Scientists discovered that arachidonic acid (AA) in omega-6 turns on cancer genes. Laboratory experiments found that AA added to human prostate cancer cells increased their growth twice as fast. An increase in dietary consumption of omega-6 could be the reason why prostate cancer incidences have been increasing progressively over the past 60 years in the US.
Colorectal Cancer : Once more, a study of Eskimos has found that although they eat omega-6 rich foods, they also consume an equal quantity of omega-3 fats. This results in low rates of many forms of cancer, including colorectal cancer. Laboratory studies on animals have also found that omega-3 foods can prevent spreading of colon cancer. A ratio of 1:1-2.5:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 was found beneficial for colon cancer patients.
The following are some of the ways that omega-3 can impede cancer thereby helping in the prevention, fighting and treatment of cancer cells:
- Slows growth of cancer-causing tumors
- Helps to rid the body of sick cells (programmed cell death) therefore countering the harmful effects of omega-6 acids
- Suppresses development of new blood vessels that are needed to feed cancer by inhibiting the effects of COX and LOX enzymes
- Alters estrogen levels and therefore prevents the growth of breast, prostate and colon cancer.
Many researchers have concluded that omega-3 benefits in cancer. To get this benefit, we much take a balanced diet consisting of both Omega 3 and Omaga 6 fatty acids. as this balance is crucial in prevention of cancer. The proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 should ideally be 1:1 to 2:1. Omega-3 helps to prevent cancer cells from multiplying, suppresses new blood cells that make them grow, and negates the effect of omega-6 fats.