- An emerging area of cancer treatment research is concerned with nutritional interventions.
- In previous studies in mice, omega-3 fatty acids showed promise as anti-tumor agents. However, validation of these results required further research.
- The present study contributes by identifying a mechanism by which omega-3 fatty acids could attack tumors.
In a new study, researchers proposed a mechanism that could explain the link between omega-3 fatty acids and the inhibition of tumors in mice.
The research published in the journal Cell Metabolism lays the groundwork for possible future cancer treatments.
The lead author of the study was Prof. Olivier Feron, Research Director at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biomedicine and the Faculty of Medicine at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium.
As the Food Supplements Office explains, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in maintaining good health. They contribute to the functioning of various parts of the body.
Researchers have also linked omega-3 fatty acids to cancer-fighting effects.
Dietary interventions for cancer are a growing area of research. Much has focused on how certain nutrients that cancer cells depend on can be restricted to stunt the growth of tumors.
For example, scientists have studied the effectiveness of calorie restriction, and especially ketogenic diets, on inhibiting tumors in mice.
Dr. However, Feron and his co-authors point out:
Applications of these approaches in cancer patients, including via the ketogenic diet, which results in fat-forming ketone bodies sparing healthy organs, face obvious problems, including weight loss, associated fatigue and weakness, along with practical difficulties in implementing these diets all in one Everyday life of cancer patients. “
Rather than restricting food intake, researchers viewing omega-3 fatty acids as an anti-cancer intervention have focused on dietary supplements. For example, researchers have linked higher omega-3 intake to lower colon cancer death rates.
The researchers behind the present study investigated which potential biological mechanisms could be responsible for the connection between omega-3 fatty acids and tumor inhibition.
The team previously showed that an acidic microenvironment in tumors stimulates cells to use lipids as an energy source instead of glucose, which enables tumor cells to multiply and spread throughout the body.
Building on this research, the group then examined how fatty acids affect tumor cells.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that different fatty acids have significantly different effects on tumor cells. “We soon found out that certain fatty acids stimulated the tumor cells while others killed them,” the study authors say.
The omega-3 fatty acids did this through a process called ferroptosis. The fatty acids flooded the tumor cells, which could not stop their oxidation. This killed the tumor cells.
The researchers confirmed the finding by using a lipid metabolism inhibitor on the tumor cells. This prevents the cells from protecting themselves from lipid oxidation by forming lipid droplets.
As a result, the team observed an increase in cell death when the cancer cells were exposed to significant amounts of omega-3.
Finally, the researchers fed mice a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids before injecting them with cancer cells. They observed a significant delay in tumor growth in the mice on the omega-3-rich diet compared to the control group.
Prof. Feron and his colleagues suggest that future research should find out whether their results can be reproduced in humans and what the ideal dosage of omega-3 fatty acids would be for this.
Medical News Today spoke to Dr. William G. Cance, the American Cancer Society’s senior medical and research fellow who was not involved in the study. About the results, he said:
“This research identifies a specific susceptibility of cancer cells based on the different ways in which they metabolize their lipids (fats). In addition, it provides a biological mechanism for the anti-tumor effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in food. It provides a long-needed scientific rationale for a specific dietary intervention and highlights another approach in the promising area of combating tumor metabolism as a potential cancer therapeutic. “
Although scientists have more work to do, Dr. Hope that in the future “a relatively simple dietary intervention may have a therapeutic effect on some cancers”.
He continued: “The knowledge that there are tumor-specific weaknesses that can be exploited with diet opens up various strategies for treating the tumor that do not involve traditional drug therapies.”