Fish Oil Compounds Fight Cancer
Scientists have known for years that people who eat lots of fish and consume more omega-3 fatty acids (found in some types of fish and all fish oil supplements) are less likely to get cancer. Now laboratory experiments have shown that one omega-3 fatty acid in particular, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), prevents skin cancer cells from growing, while leaving healthy cells unaffected. To understand how, they examined the growth of normal skin cells, and cells of oral squamous cell carcinoma, growing in culture.
Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer. Although squamous cells form the outermost layer of skin, they also line the tissues of the oral cavity, digestive tract and lungs, among other organs of the body. These types of cells are sometimes referred to as epithelial cells. When omega-3 fatty acids were added to cell cultures at levels one might obtain through the diet, normal cells were unaffected, but cancerous cells stopped growing and dividing. “We found that the omega-3 fatty acid selectively inhibited the growth of the malignant and pre-malignant cells at doses which did not affect the normal cells,” said researcher, Dr. Kenneth Parkinson.
This adds to the already enormous amount of information regarding the health benefits of fish and fish oil consumption. Vegetarians can get omega-3 fatty acids from plants such as flaxseed and chia seeds. The plant form of omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, must be converted in the body to EPA and DHA, however, and conversion is inefficient. For this reason, it may be advisable for vegetarians to supplement the diet with fish oil.
Gibson RA, Neumann MA, Lien EL, Boyd KA, Tu WC. Docosahexaenoic acid synthesis from alpha-linolenic acid is inhibited by diets high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2013 Jan;88(1):139-46. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2012.04.003. Epub 2012 Apr 17.
Nikolakopoulou Z, Nteliopoulos G, Michael-Titus AT, Parkinson EK. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids selectively inhibit growth in neoplastic oral keratinocytes by differentially activating ERK1/2. Carcinogenesis. 2013 Jul 26. [Epub ahead of print]