Can Fish Oils Help in Preventing Breast Cancer?

Maybe. An observational study of over 35,000 postmenopausal women suggests that those who take fish oil supplements might have a lower risk (1/3) of developing breast cancer than those who don’t. But these findings, though intriguing, still aren’t enough to conclude that supplements are effective in preventing breast cancer.

Instead experts recommend that adults try to eat fish at least two times a week, with fattier fish like salmon, mackerel and trout as top picks.

Of the original 35,016 subjects in the research, 880 women were diagnosed with breast cancer by the end of the six-year study period. Among those who did get breast cancer only 5% reported regularly using fish oil at the start of the study. For those who remained free of cancer, 8% had been using fish oil at the beginning.

Even after considering factors like age, weight, self reported diet and exercise patterns, and family history of the disease; fish oil supplementation appeared to bring lower risk.

Clinical trials, the “gold standard” in terms of research, will tell us more. To be conducted by Harvard University, it will randomly assign participants to take fish oil or vitamin supplements, or a placebo in an effort to understand if either has an impact on the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke in an older population.

It is biologically possible for fish oil to affect breast cancer, as it does have anti-inflammatory effects and chronic inflammation in the body is thought to have a role in cancer growth and spread.

Even so, whether fish or fish-based supplements has an impact on cancer risk remains unclear, the team makes note of two earlier studies that examined a woman’s omega-3 intake from food and risk of breast cancer with neither finding any link.

The team also noticed that in a subgroup of the subjects with a history of heart disease, using fish oil was tied to an increased breast cancer risk versus non-use. This is surprising, and may be due in part to the small number of subjects… representing a chance finding instead of an effect of fish oil. More work is needed here too.

Fish oil is a natural source of healthy fatty acids (omega-3s for example) and has proven itself in clinical trials to lower triglycerides, high blood pressure and the risk of heart attack in those with heart disease. What we need is more evidence… so far many pieces of the puzzle are uncovered, but have yet to come together to give experts a full picture.

If you’re interested in preventing breast cancer, there are things you can be doing to help yourself. Get screened regularly. Live a healthy lifestyle (or as healthy as is possible for you) by eating well, exercising regularly and getting the rest your body needs. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol to excess, and be aware of the chemicals that might be in your environment. When it comes to breast cancer prevention, the best defense is a smart offense.

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