The benefits of a diet rich in omega-3 have long since been lauded, and many tuck into foods such as salmon, broccoli, nuts and seeds to help stave off everything from depression to diabetes. It's also known to help lower inflammation, which can help with asthma and is also key for a baby's neurological development.
'We're the first to show that they work this way in cancer'
But now researchers at Washington State University have discovered that omega-3 fatty acids can prevent the growth and spread of prostate cancer cells.
"But we're the first to show that they work this way in cancer," Kathryn Meier, a professor of pharmacy at Washington State University, said in conjunction with the other known benefits of omega-3.
"The attention has mostly been on inflammation and diabetes but there has always been an interest in cancer, and we were the first to show this mechanism in any cancer cell at all.
"And we're using prostate cancer, which is the most controversial subject in omega-3s."
The findings come after scientists discovered fatty acids bind to a receptor called FFA4, (free fatty acid receptor 4). Instead of stimulating cancer cells, the receptor acts as a signal to prevent growth factors, suppressing proliferation of the cancer cells.
Professor Meier worked with two students and thinks their work will lead to an advance in cancer treating drugs and procedures.
"This kind of knowledge could lead us to better treat or prevent cancer because now we know how it works," she said.
The study appears in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics and detailed how a drug mimicking the action of omega-3s can work as well or better than fatty acids in suppressing the cancer cells.
However, the latest research is in stark contrast to work carried out in 2013, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, which found that men with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had a greater risk of developing prostate cancer.
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