Most people have heard that omega-3 fatty acids are good for them, and that eating foods rich in these fatty acids, foods such as salmon and trout, would be a wise alternative to the drive-thru window. But what about the effect of omega-3 acids on breast cancer? And what about weighing the different types of omega-3 fatty acids and seeing how effective each is in preventing breast cancer?
Previous research has found that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent breast cancer development. But the goal of this study — conducted by scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada — was to weigh the effects of the different types of omega-3. Their study showed that omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil may be around eight times more effective for halting the development of aggressive breast cancer than those from plant-based sources.
The findings of the study were reported last December in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
Types of omega-3 fatty acids
Although you’ve probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids, there are actually three different kinds. Two types are found in fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and the other is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The third type of omega-3 is the plant-based a-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in soy, canola oil, and flaxseed.
The team at the University of Guelph compared the effects of these three types of omega-3 on breast tumor development in mice that were bred to develop HER2-positive breast cancer. HER2-positive breast cancer is one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer.
The study’s co-author, Professor David Ma, explained the study goals. “This study is the first to compare the cancer-fighting potency of plant-versus marine-derived omega-3s on breast tumor development,” he said. “There is evidence that both omega-3s from plants and marine sources are protective against cancer and we wanted to determine which form is more effective.”
In the study, each mouse was exposed to one of the three different omega-3s from before birth. This allowed the research team to find a direct correlation on how the fatty acids impacted tumor development.
The findings were revealing. The team found that mice exposed to the fish oil-derived omega-3s EPA and DHA experienced a 60-70 percent reduction in tumor size, as well as a 30 percent decrease in the number of breast tumors.
The same doses of plant-based ALA did not have the same impact against breast cancer tumors as EPA and DHA. To get the same effect, researchers found that the mice had to receive much higher doses of ALA.
Quantifying their results, the team found that EPA and DHA were eight times more effective at preventing the development of breast cancer tumors than ALA.
How much should you have?
The doses used in the study suggest that women could benefit from the power of EPA and DHA by consuming two to three servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and trout, every week. The study also noted that eggs and fish oil supplements are other good sources of DHA.
“In North America, we don’t get enough omega-3s from seafood, so there lies an opportunity to improve our diet and help prevent the risk of breast cancer,” Dr. Ma commented.