Authors: Daphne Boulicault
Researchers from Washington State University have uncovered a mechanism by which omega-3 fatty acids inhibit the proliferation and spread of prostate cancer cells. The study, published recently in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, contradicts the results of a previous study and may suggest a route for the development of more effective anticancer drugs.
Omega 3 fatty acids have long been known to have positive effects on inflammation and diabetes “…but we’re the first to show that they work this way in cancer,” explained Kathryn Meier (Washington State University, WA, USA). “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.”
Another study reporting contradictory results was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2013 suggesting that men with increased levels of omega 3 fatty acids in their blood were at increased risk of prostate cancer. The investigators, however, were not able to assert whether the fatty acids came from supplements or food.
In the current work, Meier and colleagues were able to demonstrated that fatty acids bind to the FFA4 receptor in prostate cell cultures. Furthermore, they found that FFA4 acts as a signal to inhibit growth factors, and curb the growth and spread of cancer cells.
Of note, the team also concluded that a drug mimicking omega 3 fatty acids may be just as effective, if not more so, at suppressing cancer cells. Meier highlighted the importance of the results: “This kind of knowledge could lead us to better treat or prevent cancer because now we know how it works.”
It remains to be seen, however, if this beneficial effect can be obtained through dietary supplements such as fish oil. The data from this research suggests that an omega 3 fatty acid drug would need prolonged contact with cancer cells to have an effect, which may not be possible owing to the digestion of fish oil supplements.
Meier elucidated the problem: “It’s very difficult in dietary studies to tell how much to take or what form to take. Should you be eating fish? Should you be taking pills? But now we have a potential drug. Once you have a drug you can test very precisely whether it works or not in a certain disease and you would know exactly how much to give people.”