At a time when one man in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, there is encouraging news: new research shows that men may keep this disease from spreading by consuming fatty fish, such as canned tuna, that are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids.
Published in the March issue of the British Journal of Cancer, the study was conducted by scientists at the Paterson Institute at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, England and finds that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are able to block the spread of cancerous cells in the prostate gland. This makes it possible to confine the cancer to the prostate where treatment with surgery or radiotherapy is very effective. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for men whose prostate cancer remains localized is nearly 100 percent.
The new study also examines why omega-3 fatty acids are protective, suggesting they may block the action of a common fatty acid in prostate cells called arachidonic acid, which has been found to increase the spread of tumor cells into the bone marrow. For this reason, the researchers advocate adding more omega-3 fatty acids to the diet to balance the amount of arachidonic acid converted in the body from consumption of vegetable oils. Because Americans eat little fish, they often lack the omega-3s that restrain the effects of arachidonic acid.
The British study adds to a growing body of research linking two of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish -- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) -- with a lower risk of breast, colon and prostate cancers. This includes a major study of more than 35,000 women by the National University of Singapore whose increased consumption of DHA and EPA lowered the risk of developing breast cancer by 26 percent.
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Besides having a protective effect against certain cancers, omega-3 fatty acids lower the risk of heart disease and stroke and reduce the symptoms of some inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Promising research also suggests these fatty acids may reduce the chance of Alzheimer's disease and maintain good cognitive function - especially as people age.