Omega-3 fish oil or n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) may be a significant contributor to cancer prevention and inhibit the growth of breast cancer by 30%, according to a new study published by University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada) in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

Because of lack of direct evidence from epidemiological and experimental studies, researchers have so far unable to substantiate such claims. For the first time, researchers have now been able to provide direct evidence for an anti-cancer role of n-3 PUFA in mammary tumorigenesis.

Long term use
Researchers believe their study is the first ever to offer unequivocal evidence that omega-3 fatty acids, when taken consistently on a life-long basis, may reduce the risk of breast cancer. In women, breast cancer is the most common form of this disease, as well as the second-leading cause of deaths attributable to cancer.

Other studies spanning decades have confirmed that omega-3 fish oil can be therapeutically beneficial in numerous women ‘ s health issues, including menopause-related weight gain and other symptoms. ?It?s a significant finding,? said David Ma, a professor in Guelph?s Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, and one of the study?s authors. ?We show that lifelong exposure to omega-3s has a beneficial role in disease prevention ? in this case, breast cancer prevention. What?s important is that we have proven that omega-3s are the driving force and not something else.?

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Breast cancer remains the most common form of cancer in women worldwide and is the second leading cause of female cancer deaths. “Health advocates have long believed diet may significantly help in preventing cancer, but epidemiological and experimental studies to back up such claims have been lacking, and human studies have been inconsistent,” Ma noted. ?There are inherent challenges in conducting and measuring diet in such studies, and it has hindered our ability to firmly establish linkages between dietary nutrients and cancer risk,? he said. ?So we?ve used modern genetic tools to address a classic nutritional question.?

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A new approach
For their study, the researchers created a novel transgenic mouse that both produces omega-3 fatty acids and develops aggressive mammary tumors. The team compared those animals to mice genetically engineered only to develop the same tumors. ?This model provides a purely genetic approach to investigate the effects of lifelong omega-3s exposure on breast cancer development,? Ma said. ?To our knowledge, no such approach has been used previously to investigate the role of omega-3s and breast cancer.?

Smaller and less tumors
Mice producing omega-3s developed only two-thirds as many tumors ? and tumours were also 30% smaller ? as the control mice did. ?The difference can be solely attributed to the presence of omega-3s in the transgenic mice ? that?s significant,? Ma explained. ?The fact that a food nutrient can have a significant effect on tumour development and growth is remarkable and has considerable implications in breast cancer prevention.?

Known as an expert on how fats influence health and disease, Ma hopes the study leads to more research on using diet to reduce cancer risk and on the benefits of healthy living.

?Prevention is an area of growing importance,” he said. “We are working to build a better planet, and that includes better lifestyle and diet. The long-term consequences of reducing disease incidence can have a tremendous effect on the health-care system.?

Not all Omega-3 are created equal
The researchers noted that not all Omega-3’s are the same. Only highly purified pharmaceutical-grade 88%omega-3 ethyl ester supplement, offer the benefits required. Experts believe that the optimal balance of EPA to DHA is 3.3 to 1.Furthermore, researchers believe that a high concentration of 60% EPA helps to restore the body’s imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

For more information:
[1] MacLennan MB, Clarke SE, Perez K, Wood GA, Muller WJ, Kang JX, Ma DW. Mammary tumor development is directly inhibited by lifelong n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Nutr Biochem. 2013 Jan;24(1):388-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2012.08.002. Epub 2012 Sep 29. [Abstract][Full Article]

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