By Lori Lee
NDG Contributing Writer
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are good fats found in cold-water fish, certain oils, leafy vegetables, and nuts, especially walnuts. Considered immunonutrients, these good fats are important, because they are an integral part of cell membranes.
Since the 1970s, omega-3 PUFAs have been studied due to their ability to suppress inflammation. Systemic inflammation is the main contributor to many problems related to cancer, as reported in the National Library of Medicine (NLM). If increasing EPA and DHA relative to arachidonic acid is effective in reducing breast cancer risk, it is likely due to reduced proinflammatory lipid derivatives, they report, and specifically, reduced nuclear factor-κB-induced cytokine production and growth factors.
Dating as far back as 2010, NML has reported a beneficial effect of fish oil against cancer. Fish oil was found to ameliorate tumor growth and progression, including breast cancer, in a 2010 study that indicated both DHA and EPA significantly reduced growth of MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells in culture and inhibited CD44 mRNA and proteins in the tumors of mice. The study provided evidence of a benefit of fish oil supplementation in reducing breast cancer metastasis to bone.
Breast cancer patients often develop bone metastasis, which is evidenced by soft osteolytic lesions that lead to severe pain and bone fracture.
A diet rich in fish oil diet, or DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) was found to prevent the formation of these lesions in the bone, indicating suppression of cancer cell metastasis to bone, reported NLM.
This research was strengthened in 2015, when NML reported additional and more specific evidence that ingestion of EPA and DHA reduced the risk of breast cancer. The 2015 study suggested high intake ratios of the marine omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) relative to the omega-6 (arachidonic acid) were more effective in reducing breast cancer risk compared to those with lower ratios.
PUFAs are not only used as supplemental nutritional therapy to reduce the risk of cancer, but also for other complications related to a cancer diagnosis and treatment. These complications include depression, pain, and anorexia, and a condition affecting the nervous system.
The diagnosis of cancer provokes stress and sadness and leads to major depressive disorder, especially for those patients with a poor prognosis, reports NLM. Depression is not only explained by the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis but is also caused by pro-inflammatory cytokines, which occur in relation to cancer and/or cancer treatment, they report.
According to NLM, omega-3 PUFAs may not only assist in reducing depression, but can also modulate pain associated with cancerous tumor growth, metastasis, and chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity. Additionally, these good fats are effective against muscle atrophy and reduced associated with appetite anorexia-cachexia syndrome, a disease that affects cancer patients. This, due to its ability to reduce inflammation.