According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40, 000 women have died from breast cancer this year alone. This type of cancer affects both men and women each year, although it is fairly rare in men. This post will talk a little bit about what you should know about breast cancer, and discuss how taking fish oil supplements may reduce your risk of developing it.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer starts at the cellular level. Normally, the cells in your body divide and multiply as they are needed. Once these cells are too old, or are injured, they die and new cells take their place.
When the cell cycle malfunctions, the cells do not die and instead create masses inside your body known as tumors. In women, these tumors can sometimes form within the breast tissue or even in the regions of the breast that produce milk. There are two types of tumors:
- are relatively “harmless” are easily removed, and tend not to regrow
- do not affect surrounding tissue
- typically do not spread to other areas in the body
- can be very dangerous
- may be removed, but can regrow
- can affect surrounding tissue
- can spread to other areas in the body
While many doctors are still asking “can fish oil prevent or reduce breast cancer risk?”, certain things are known to increase a woman’s risk.
Among them are: age, family history, drinking alcohol, exposure to radiation, menstrual history, race, obesity, physical activity and genetics. Of course, you cannot do anything to change some of these, but new research is exploring the link between something you can change – diet and nutrition.
How Can Your Diet Reduce Your Risk?
One key part of your diet that may reduce your risk could be the amount of omega-3 you consume. So will becoming a pescatarian (a seafood-only eater) significantly benefit you? Not necessarily…The high amounts of toxins found in fish have lead many researchers and government agencies to recommend limits on how much fish a person should consume.
An alternative to a fish-only diet is to supplement your diet with high quality fish oil. Since responsible manufacturers routinely have their supplements tested for quality and purity, it is possible to provide your body with the fatty acids you need, without exposing yourself to these potentially dangerous toxins.
What Research Supports This?
At least one study suggests that women who regularly include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids into their diets over many years may be less likely to develop breast cancer. In a large scale study with over 35,000 participants, researchers found fish oil reduces breast cancer risk by 32%.
In fact, these same researchers have noted that“preliminary studies with various lipid markers have resulted in breast-cancer detection rates of up to 90 percent with a “false-positive” rate of only 5 percent”, a figure that further supports the link between omega-3s and breast cancer.
In addition, the risk of dying from breast cancer may be significantly less for those who eat large quantities of omega-3 from fish and brown kelp seaweed (common in Japan). This is particularly true among women who substitute fish for meat. Furthermore, while both pre and post-menopausal women also see some protective effects from adding omega-3 fatty acids to their diets, post-menopausal women see the greatest benefit, reducing their risk by 42%!
How Does It Work?
One of the primary ways your body can use omega-3s to potentially reduce the risk of developing breast cancer is simply including it in your diet. According to researchers, the balance between omega-3 and omega-6s appears to play an important role in the development and growth of breast cancer. The actual mechanisms by which these fatty acids effect specific genes in the body is not very well understood. However, new science seems to point to a relationship between ER-related gene expression. For now, all that is clear is that research findings point to an inverse relationship between levels of omega-3 in the body and subsequent expression.
The anti-inflammatory properties in omega-3s may also help your body reduce risk. This is particularly true in cases of inflammatory breast cancer, where omega-3s truly have a chance to shine. The function of omega-3s in the body is fairly simple: to decrease inflammation. By contrast, omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils have the opposite effect of increasing inflammation. In order for your body to be healthy, omega-3 and omega-6 levels must be balanced at a ratio of about 1:2. The typical American diet, however, has levels upwards of 1:20 — 10 times the ideal level!
Another way omega-3s may help reduce risk is through preventing tumor growth in the first place. One study found omega-3 supplementation to possibly impair angiogenesis, a prerequisite for tumor growth and metastasis. Further research is still needed to understand the effect that omega-3s may have on breast cancer prevention and treatment. Researchers do speculate that omega-3s, in combination with other nutrients (namely, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, and coenzyme Q10) may prove to be of particular value for preventing and treating breast cancer.
Now that you’ve found out what you should know about breast cancer, and can see how taking a fish oil supplement may reduce your risk of developing it, you have the tools to make some smart health decisions!