Omega-3 Supplements Protect Against Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is not as well-publicized as breast cancer, perhaps because of its rare occurrence. Yet it is considered among the most deadly of cancers because of its aggressive nature. Pancreatic cancer spreads quickly, has no noticeable symptoms at the early stages, and is not detected until its late stages. Patients suffering from this disease also have very few treatment options to choose from. Despite these grim facts, there is good news – research shows that omega-3 supplements together with vitamins C and E lower the risk of pancreatic cancer. Conversely, a diet high in saturated fats increases the chances of contracting this deadly disease.
Researchers from the University of California San Francisco looked at nutritional data from 532 pancreatic patients and compared this with data from 1,701 patients without cancer. They observed that individuals who had high amounts of saturated fats in their diet had a 60% increased risk of getting pancreatic cancer. Other fatty acids like oleic monosaturated fatty acids, linolenic acid, and palmitoleic was also associated with increased cancer risk. However, patients who consumed at least 850 mg of fish oil pills containing docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) a day had a 53% reduced risk of pancreatic cancer, compared to patients who only consumed 330 mg and 580 mg a day. The risk for cancer was even lower among patients who consumed healthy amounts of vitamin C and vitamin E supplements daily.
When asked about the mechanisms of action, the study authors believe that the antioxidant effects of vitamins C and E may be at work. Previous research has shown that these vitamins have anticarcinogenic effects – they reduce oxidative stress and suppress reactive oxygen species, thereby preventing any cancer-causing mutations from taking place. Their protective effects on the pancreas may also be due to their ability to boost immune function.
Although the researchers are still not clear about the role of DHA and EPA in pancreatic cancer protection, they did observe that pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids increase the production of bile acids. This contributes to the bile reflux in pancreas, a risk factor for cancer formation. Omega-3 supplements have anti-inflammatory effects, which suppress the effects of omega-6 fats and protect the pancreas from bile reflux.
The study, which is published in the International Journal of Cancer, is the first to discover preventive measures against pancreatic cancer. Previous research suggests that pancreatic cancer may also be prevented by limiting alcohol intake and avoiding cigarette smoke.