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Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Breast Cancer Therapy

Posted Apr 13 2010 7:34am
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are a common part of our daily diet, particularly the omega-6 (linoleic and gamma linolenic) and omega-3 (alpha linolenic, EPA, and DHA) fatty acids.  Because of their importance to cell membrane function, numerous research studies have explored their potential ability to enhance breast cancer therapies designed to kill breast cancer cells.

A recent review paper was published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer summarizing the current state of this research.  According to this paper, some of the PUFAs appear to be able to function both independently on breast cancer cells and in combination with chemotherapy drugs.  Some of the beneficial cancer-fighting properties of PUFAs reported in this paper include
  • An ability to kill breast cancer cells in culture and breast tumors implanted in animals.
  • An ability to enhance the effect of a variety of chemotherapy drugs.
  • A lack of any substantial side effects.
The ability of PUFAs to kill cancer cells and enhance the therapeutic potential of chemotherapy drugs appears to be related to the effects of PUFAs on (1) oxidative stress, (2) changes in enzymes that metabolize chemotherapeutic drugs, and (3) inhibition of blood vessel growth.  According to this report, breast cancer researchers believe that the ability of PUFAs to enhance chemotherapy drugs without having serious side effects may allow breast cancer treatments to be done with lower doses of chemotherapy.  These potential benefits of PUFAs on the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs have lead breast cancer researchers to start testing chemotherapy drugs physically attached to PUFAs.  Early studies indicate that this kind of combination might improve the anti-cancer activity with fewer side effects.

While this review demonstrates the anti-cancer potential of a dietary component when combined with a chemotherapy drug, there is still a lot of research to be done.  Determining the most effective PUFA, the best combinations of PUFAs and chemotherapy drugs, appropriate doses, and mechanisms of action will require extensive research and human clinical trials.  Nonetheless, the future of some of the PUFAs for breast cancer therapy looks promising at this point.

The effect of the PUFAs on breast cancer risk has been debated in the scientific literature for a long time now with early studies suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids provide health benefits, while the omega-6 fatty acids might be associated with health risks.  Currently, many researchers believe that the health risk associated with omega-6 fatty acids is related more to the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 that we consume in our diets with healthy diets having a ratio of 1-4 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3 (compared to the 15:1 in our less healthy Western diets).  Reducing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids while increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids is a good way to achieve a healthier balance of dietary fats and will make it easier to maintain a healthier diet.

Flaxseed is one of my favorite cancer fighting foods and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  To learn more about the benefit of flaxseed for reducing breast cancer risk, read my book Fight Now: Eat & Live Proactively Against Breast Cancer at www.fightBCnow.com .
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