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Fish oil supplements lower breast cancer risk

Posted by on Jul 13, 2010 | Leave a Comment

Fish-oil supplements intake is related with a lower risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women, according to a newly published study. New research claims that taking fish-oil supplements can decrease the risk of developing tumors by up to a third. Fish oils have long been accredited with health benefits, for example boosting brain power. However, this is the first time fish-oil has been associated to a possible reduction in breast cancer cases.

Emily White, an epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and study senior author said, “The study focused on the potential health benefits of 15 different so-called ‘specialty’ supplements to see if they affect breast cancer risk. The only one that had an effect was fish oil.” Fish oil supplements which are prepared from fatty fish such as salmon contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

The study, described as the first of its kind, involved 35,016 postmenopausal women who were between the ages of 50 and 76, living in western Washington State. All the women, who were healthy at the start of the study, answer questionnaires about their use of non-vitamin, non-mineral “specialty” supplements. In the Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study, all were participants and none had a history of breast cancer.

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who surveyed postmenopausal women found a 32-per-cent reduction in breast cancer risk among women taking fish oil. 880 women developed breast cancer after six years of follow-up. Researchers studied 15 supplements including black cohosh, dong quai and soy, and other supplements women sometimes take for menopausal problems such as hot flushes. White said, “The evidence is intriguing, but it’s not definitive.”

The study has been published in the July issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Approximately 8 percent of the women had taken fish oil at some point and of those women 83 percent said they took fish oil supplements at least four times a week, and 60 percent said they took them daily. To verify knowing doses of fish oil supplements that each woman was taking, researchers had no way.

Omega-3 fatty acids help to fight against inflammation, and proof is accumulating that cancer might be related to inflammation. Inflammation leads to cell turnover, and cell turnover provides cells the chance to mount up genetic errors that lead to cancer, White said.

White said the reduced risk was found in women who were taking fish oil supplements at the start of the study. The amount of fish oil supplements consumed can not be quantified by her because “current use” was defined as any amount taken by a woman.

However, White cautioned against about taking any recommendations from the results of one study. She said, “Without confirming studies specifically addressing this. We should not draw any conclusions about a causal relationship.” The study was “observational” only, and not a randomized trial that compared the use of fish oil with a group not using fish oil and the effect on cancer rates.

Dr. David Pearlstone, M.D., chief of the division of breast surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey, said, “The new findings reinforce something that most of us feel in our hearts but are struggling to prove. Fish oil probably is really good for you in a lot of ways, but the data has been [slow] in coming.”

Therefore, study authors concluded that the connection of these supplements with breast cancer risk still require further study, especially regarding the timing of exposure and dosage, as well as trying to determine differences by tumor stage or histolgic type.

Study: Fish Oil and Breast Cancer video from Youtube:


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