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Omega-3's Breast Cancer Protection Mechanism Explained

Researchers investigated the reasons why Omega-3 fatty acids appear to protect against breast cancer and found that these fish-oil derived substances enable two tumor suppressor genes to work efficiently. These studies were reported in the March and April 2002 British Journal of Nutrition.

The researchers found that omega-3 fats, found in the fish-oil derived EPA and DHA fatty acids, affect the tumor suppressor genes BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2). When functioning properly, these two tumor suppressor genes help repair DNA damage, warding off tumor development. However, in 1994, researchers discovered that mutations in these two genes are linked to a higher risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancer. Five percent of all breast cancer cases occur in women with BRCA1 mutations.

The researchers in the current study treated breast cell lines with both omega-6 and omega-3 fats, then observed the expression of BRCA1 and BRCA2. The Omega-3 fats DHA and EPA from fish oil together blocked increases in BRCA1 and BRCA2 while omega-6 fats did not.

Another recent study offered another suggestion as to how omega-3's protect against cancer. The researchers in this study found that omega-3 fats activate receptors that can influence breast cancer cell growth.


British Journal of Nutrition. April 2002; 87( 4): 281-289.
British Journal of Nutrition. March 2002; 87(3): 193-198.

Key concepts: Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, DHA, breast cancer