Lower risk of breast cancer linked to omega-3 fatty acids in fish

omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish like
salmon, tuna and sardines can lower the risk
of developing breast cancer, according to a
large-scale review of past studies published
in the June 27 issue of the British Medical
The study concluded that women who
consume a high level of omega-3 fatty acids
from oily fish had a 14 percent lower chance
of developing breast cancer than those who
consumed the lowest levels.A regular serving of salmon, for example,
contains four grams of omega-3.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in plants,
however, did not seem to have the same
beneficial effects in terms of lowering
breast cancer risk.
The study, performed by researchers in
China, analyzed and compiled data from 21
separate studies; altogether 883,585
participants, including 20,905 cases of
breast cancer.An interesting finding of the study was that
while a higher intake in omega-3s from fish
oil lowered the risk of breast cancer,
consuming fish in general did not. In fact,
the beneficial effects of consuming fish in
terms of breast cancer risk were negligent
among non-Asians, presumably because
theses groups did not consume enough fish
(and especially oily fish) to derive a
measurable benefit from it.
A type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3s
have long been suspected of lowering the
risk of cardiovascular disease and certain
cancers. However, the link between
omega-3s and lower cancer and
cardiovascular disease has not been
confirmed by all studies.
A 2009 review of 49 studies was unable to
find a link between consuming omega-3
fats, in either supplements or through diet,
and a decreased risk for cardiovascular
disease or cancer. While the study did not
find a positive link, authors pointed out that
their conclusions did not suggest that
consumers should stop eating foods rich in
omega-3s. “It’s difficult to say with any certainty
which foods or dietary factors have an
impact on breast cancer risk, since we all
eat a variety of different foods, and our diet
changes over our lifetime,” said Sally
Greenbrook, Senior Policy Officer at
Breakthrough Breast Cancer. “The study
found that fatty acids found in fish could be
associated with a lower risk of breast
cancer, but there’s not enough evidence yet
to suggest eating fish will reduce a person’s
individual risk. However, we do recommend
that all people eat a healthy balanced diet
for their general health and wellbeing, of
which fish can certainly form a part.”Like many other components of healthy
diets, researchers are beginning to
understand that it may not be just a
question of costuming omega-3 in isolation,
but its interaction with other dietary
components and lifestyle choices.
For example, a 2002 study found a link
between women who consumed a balanced
ratio of omega-3s and omega-6 fatty acids
and a lower risk of developing breast
There may be also a difference between
consuming oily fish as part of a healthy diet
and taking fish omega-3 in the form of a
dietary supplement.
“While this research reported a reduction in
breast cancer risk of 14 per cent for women
consuming the highest levels of a particular
type of fatty acid,” said Katherine Woods,
Research Information Manager at Breast
Cancer Campaign. “It is important to note
that body mass index (BMI) was not
factored into the findings which could go
some way to explaining this link.”
For now, doctors suggest that women who
want to lower their individual risk of breast
cancer should maintain an active lifestyle;
eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits,
vegetables, and nuts; and refrain from
smoking or drinking alcohol in excess.