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Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help protect your heart and maintain brain function. Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, many experts believe omega-3s benefit people with colitis, asthma, arthritis, eye disease and other conditions. Now, research suggests they may assist in preventing breast cancer and reducing the chance of it happening again.
The value of omega-3 fatty acid has long been of interest, based on the low rates of breast cancer among women in Japan and natives of Alaska and Greenland, whose diets are high in marine omega-3 fatty acid. This correlation is supported by recent research showing that women with a high ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids had a lower risk of breast cancer. The study focused on omega-3s called EPA and DHA, which are found in fish oil.
The benefits of omega-3 also appear to limit the recurrence of breast cancer. A study of over 3,000 women with early stage breast cancer found that those with higher intakes of EPA and DHA from dietary sources had a 25% reduction in the recurrence of their cancer. These women were also shown to have overall improved survival rates.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are necessary for normal human growth and development. The human body cannot produce them on its own, so you have to get them through food. The fatty acids cited in this study – EPA and DHA – come from fatty fish such as:
Other sources include algae and krill, some plants and nut oils. (Another omega-3 fatty acid called ALA is found in green leafy vegetables and canola oils; however, ALA has limited ability to be converted to DHA and EPA in the body.)
While it is possible to get EPA and DHA in the form of fish oil capsules, you should only take supplements under the supervision of your healthcare provider because of possible side effects and interactions with medications. If you do take fish oil supplements, buy them from established companies that certify their products are free of heavy metals, such as mercury, lead and cadmium.
One of the keys to better health is the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (like those found in plant oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, nuts and seeds). Eating fatty fish can improve the balance. It also helps to follow a heart-healthy eating plan like the Mediterranean diet. This diet emphasizes fish, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and the use of olive oil over other cooking oils.
Learn more about the Mediterranean diet.