Researchers from the Washington State University have found out that omega-3 fatty acids may help in suppressing the growth of cancer cells in the prostate, thus opening a new possibility for developing novel anti-cancer drugs.
The link between omega-3 and cancer, especially prostate cancer is controversial. A 2013 study that appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that men with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had a greater risk of developing prostate cancer.
However, omega-3 fatty acids have long been known to have beneficial effects on human heath because it reduces inflammation. They also have anti-diabetic properties.
Lead researcher Dr. Kathryn Meier, professor of pharmacy at WSU and her team have decided to focus on the probable anti-cancer properties of fatty acids.
“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, said Meier. “And we’re using prostate cancer, which is the most controversial subject in omega 3s.”
Working with prostate cell cultures, the researchers found out that omega-3 fatty acids bind to a receptor called free fatty acid receptor 4 or FFA4. This receptor acts as a signal for inhibiting cell growth factors thereby suppressing the uncontrollable proliferation of prostate cells—a phenomenon observed in cancer.
The study thereby rejects the earlier study linking omega-3 fatty acids with prostate cancer risk. Rather than stimulating cancer cells, omega-3 fatty acids prevent prostate cancer.
“This kind of knowledge could lead us to better treat or prevent cancer because now we know how it works,” said Meier.
Synthetic drugs mimicking the properties or actions of omega-3 fatty acids could also work the same or even better in suppressing the growth of cancer cells according to the study.
However, Meier highlighted the fact that it is still unclear whether the laboratory effects would still be the same when omega-3 fatty acids or similar drugs are introduced in the body by taking dietary supplements. Furthermore, data from the study suggest that omega-3 needs to be in a cancer cell all the time to have an effect.
Further details of the study are found in the article “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Other FFA4 Agonists Inhibit Growth Factor Signaling in Human Prostate Cancer Cells” published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Other researchers include Ze Liu, Mandi M. Hopkins, Zhihong Zhang, Chrystal B. Quisenberry, Louise C. Fix, and Brianna M. Galvan.