Mice given a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids had fewer and smaller tumors than those on a diet rich in omega 6 polyunsaturated fats. That’s what researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center found out when comparing the results of a recent experiment, which they think can be attributed to the ability of omega 3 fatty acids to support the immune system and fight inflammation.
In a study chronicled in the journal Clinical & Experimental Metastasis, Saraswoti Khadge and her colleagues divided a group of mice and fed each the same liquid diet in terms of calories and fat content. The only difference is one group had their diet enriched with omega 3 fatty acids and the other was given plant-rich omega 6 polyunsaturated fats.
The mice were injected with 4T1 breast cancer cells, which cause aggressive tumor development in the breast and can spontaneously spread to other parts of the body such as bones, lungs and liver. The mice were autopsied after 35 days and researchers found a dramatic difference between the two sets.
It took longer for the tumors to start developing in the mice on the omega-3 diet and the tumors that were detected were half the size of those in the omega 6 group. Also, the likelihood of the cancer cells spreading to other organs was lower and it appeared some of the omega-3 fed mice never even developed breast cancer.
Additionally, more T-cells were found in the tissue of the mice fed omega 3. T-cells are white blood cells credited with strengthening the immune system in its fight against tumors. The omega-3 fed mice also had less inflammation. Khadge said this could mean omega 3 fatty acids may help the body suppress the inflammation that can lead to the development and spread of tumors, as well as promote T-cell response to tumors.
"Our study emphasizes the potential therapeutic role of dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the control of tumor growth and metastasis," Khadge said. But she stopped short of saying omega 3 fatty acids could prevent breast cancer tumors from forming altogether.