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Omega-3s: A Win for You, a Loss for Cancer


A major advance in the fight against cancer was recently discovered and published in Cell Metabolism. And the discovery may surprise you. This new weapon is not a medication or radiation therapy but a natural omega-3 fatty acid that you should already be eating every day. But are you getting enough?

Recent research shows that DHA is toxic to tumors, making it a formidable weapon in the fight against cancer. A multidisciplinary team at the University of Louvain has been studying the biomechanical mechanisms of DHA for several years, and newly collected data shows that DHA can slow the development of tumors. 

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid found mostly in fish and commonly available in supplements. DHA is naturally produced in small quantities by our bodies, but to achieve adequate amounts, this fatty acid needs to be taken in through dietary sources. DHA is crucial to brain health, the regulation of inflammation in the body, and overall health.

This new research was launched after discovering that tumor cells replace glucose with lipids as an energy source for multiplication. As cells do this, they become more aggressive, and the risk of metastasis increases significantly. In evaluating the impact of different fatty acids on these tumor cells, they found that some fatty acids stimulate their activity while others kill them. 

3D tumor cell culture system (spheroid)

DHA is one of the fatty acids that tumor cells do not like. It literally poisons them via a process known as ferroptosis. This new research revealed:

♦ The more unsaturated fatty acids like DHA are in the cells, the greater their risk of oxidation and death. 

♦ Tumor cells naturally absorb the fatty acids for energy and store them as lipid droplets that are protected from oxidation.

♦ A large amount of DHA overwhelms the tumor cell, preventing DHA storage for energy.

♦ Unstored DHA oxidizes and kills the cell.

To confirm their discovery, researchers used a 3D tumor cell culture system (spheroid). When DHA is introduced, spheroids grow and then implode. In animal studies, a DHA-rich diet helps slow the tumor growth in mice compared to those eating a conventional diet. What this means for human health is that DHA has value in fighting cancer.

This discovery opens the door for future treatment options that incorporate DHA. With the average adult diet getting less DHA per day than recommended (only 50 to 100mg out of 250mg), this research helps support the importance of getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Whether through diet or supplemental support, increasing DHA intake is on your side in the fight against cancer.

Journal reference

Emeline Dierge, Elena Debock, Céline Guilbaud, Cyril Corbet, Eric Mignolet, Louise Mignard, Estelle Bastien, Chantal Dessy, Yvan Larondelle, Olivier Feron.(2021).  Peroxidation of n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the acidic tumor environment leads to ferroptosis-mediated anticancer effects. Cell Metabolism.