Sage Advice

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Breast Cancer

April 17, 2013

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids (EFAs) critical to cellular function and human health. Our western diet is notably low in omega-3 fatty acid content and this has been linked to chronic health issues including inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and brain health. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids are fish oils as well as certain plant oils.  Fish oils are the best place to get the specific EFAs, DHA and EPA which are being studied scientifically for their health benefits. This posting will briefly discuss some of the new research that is emerging about omega-3 fatty acids and breast cancer patients.


The Case for Fish Oils


The benefits from fish oils are numerous and they remain one of the most touted natural health supplements for health and disease prevention. This is because at the most fundamental level, cells made up of more Omega-3 fatty acids are healthier and lead to less overall inflammation being generated in our body on a day in and day out basis. They make cell membranes more fluid, increasing cell to cell signaling and help thin the blood which benefits heart disease, stroke and cancer spread. omega-3 fatty acids help regulate a healthy immune response, promoting a more favorable immune response for tumor detection and destruction. Both reduced inflammation and immune health are critical both for cancer prevention as well as slowing cancer growth.  Cellular and animal studies have built a strong case for the use of fish oils in cancer patients on treatment. A review and summary done of over 80 scientific research articles were able to demonstrate synergy with both radiation and chemotherapy, helping them increase cancer cell death while reducing the toxicity of these therapies in pre-clinical models. (See Article Here)


Metstatic Breast Cancer Research


Two more recent studies coming out of France take this earlier data and apply it to real women battling advanced stage breast cancer. They looked at one specific EFA, DHA is the main component in fish oil. This first article titled, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake during first line chemotherapy improves survival in metastatic breast cancer.”  Demonstrated reduced toxicity and better survival for women with higher levels of DHA in their blood.  Specifically they had less anemia and low platelets. Those patients with high DHA lived 3.5 years after the intervention, vs. those with low DHA lived for 1.5 years. 

            The second study, entitled:" Improving outcome of chemotherapy of metastatic breast cancer by docosahexaenoic acid: a phase II trial,” Confirmed what was seen in the first study and further concluded that “DHA during chemotherapy was devoid of adverse side effects and can improve the outcome of chemotherapy when highly incorporated. DHA has a potential to specifically chemosensitize tumors.”  This means that it was safe, helped patients live longer and can potentially increase the effectivness of chemotherapy treatment.”  These two studies help show that fish oil can truly impact patients’ length and quality of life when added in combination with conventional treatment.


Simple Yet Powerful


There are multiple additionally researched benefits of fish oils for cancer patients including helping stop cancer related weight loss and synergizing with tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitor treatment. The science behind this entire list of benefits will have to wait for future postings.

            Fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids are an example of a simple yet powerful natural intervention. This type of treatment holds great promise for cancer patients and it is one of many in the naturopathic armament.  This combined approach is the power of integrative additions to conventional care.  Whether trying to prevent cancer recurrence, actively fighting cancer or newly diagnosed, naturopathic medicine can greatly impact the course and success in the cancer journey. Science is just now starting to catch up to what natural wisdom has shown for centuries. Supporting the body nutritionally and looking at health holistically makes a profound difference.




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