Omega-3s and Breast Cancer
According to statistics at breastcancer.org, 1 in 8 American women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. While there are many factors that contribute to the causes of the disease, changing the ratio of omega-3s and omega-6 fatty acids may play a role in preventing – or at least aiding in the recovery of – breast cancer.
The ability of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3s to reduce inflammatory markers and DNA damage may help stop the cellular dysfunction that causes tumors to form and spread. The other well-known attributes of these fatty acids may also help prevent cancer-related cardiac or cognitive issues that arise due to treatment. Other helpful aspects of omega-3s may be in their ability to reduce muscle loss following chemotherapy.
Omega-3 supplementation is common, but getting the omega-3s in their most absorbable and beneficial form is critical to ensure the most beneficial effects. Omega-3s that are bound to phospholipids and deliver fish peptides may be the best way to get a convenient and consistent level of these nutrients.
Fabian CJ, Kimler BF, Hursting SD. Omega-3 fatty acids for breast cancer prevention and survivorship. Breast Cancer Res. 2015;17(1):62. Published 2015 May 4. doi:10.1186/s13058-015-0571-6
Women with evidence of high intake ratios of the marine omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) relative to the omega-6 arachidonic acid have been found to have a reduced risk of breast cancer compared with those with low ratios in some but not all case-control and cohort studies. If increasing EPA and DHA relative to arachidonic acid is effective in reducing breast cancer risk, likely mechanisms include reduction in proinflammatory lipid derivatives, inhibition of nuclear factor-κB-induced cytokine production, and decreased growth factor receptor signaling as a result of alteration in membrane lipid rafts. Primary prevention trials with either risk biomarkers or cancer incidence as endpoints are underway but final results of these trials are currently unavailable. EPA and DHA supplementation is also being explored in an effort to help prevent or alleviate common problems after a breast cancer diagnosis, including cardiac and cognitive dysfunction and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. The insulin-sensitizing and anabolic properties of EPA and DHA also suggest supplementation studies to determine whether these omega-3 fatty acids might reduce chemotherapy-associated loss of muscle mass and weight gain. We will briefly review relevant omega-3 fatty acid metabolism, and early investigations in breast cancer prevention and survivorship.