New Study Suggests Omega-3s Could Help Prevent Cancer

Most doctors and scientists seem to agree that when it comes to eating a healthy diet, omega-3 fatty acids should be a priority. This essential substance has been linked to improved cardiovascular health, lower rates of depression and reduced inflammation, among other benefits. But can omega-3 fatty acids actually help prevent cancer? New research suggests that this may be the latest advantage of consuming the healthy fat.

A study from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute’s Cardiovascular Research Center found that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the density and help prevent the development of a type of tumor called adenocarcinoma, which can often become cancerous. Adenocarcinomas are most commonly found in breast cancer cases, but can also cause colon, esophageal, and intestinal cancers.

In an article published in the magazine Nutrition and Cancer: An International Journal, the research team linked this benefit specifically to certain types of fatty fish. This in itself is not unusual: salmon, tuna, and other types of fatty fish are often recommended by health organizations due to their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. However, the researchers also suggested that fish needs to be cooked a certain way to obtain these benefits.

One of the scientists, Dr. James DiNicolantonio, gave Italian cooking as an example: in this cuisine, fish is only rarely preserved or fried. Italian cooking is also known for its frequent use of olive oil, which is low in omega-6 fatty acids, the antithesis of omega-3s. Not surprisingly, DiNicolantonio points out, Italy has reaped the benefits of this diet: previous studies in the country have shown that participants who consumed fish at least twice a week were found to have significantly lower risks of ovarian, endometrial, pharyngeal, esophageal, gastric, colonic, rectal and pancreatic cancers than those who ate fish less than once a week.

Unfortunately, consumers who want to take advantage of this benefit might find adding more fish to their diets to be a challenge: not only do many people dislike eating fish, but a number of reports have also found that fatty fish can have higher levels of mercury, PCBs, and other toxins. Ironically, there is some data that these harmful elements may increase a person’s risks of developing cancer, although this has yet to be conclusively proven. However, this may be reason enough for people to consider consuming other sources of omega-3s, such as soybeans or fish oil.

The study on omega-3 fatty acids is only the most recent study from St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, a healthcare provider with locations throughout Missouri and Kansas. Founded in 1988, St. Luke’s was the first hospital in the United States to focus specifically on cardiovascular health. In 2013 alone, the institute reportedly participated in almost 180 clinical research trials on everything from cardiothoracic surgery and heart transplants to preventative cardiology.

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