Study discovers how Omega-3 fatty acids slow the growth of tumors

Some may be surprised to learn that there are good fatty acids that the human body needs despite the prevalence of low-fat diets. Among Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA is particularly important because it's crucial to brain function, vision, and the regulation of inflammatory phenomena. DHA also plays a role in the reduction of the incidence of cancer.

Exactly how DHA reduces the incidence of cancer was the subject of a significant discovery by a team of scientists at the University of Louvain. The researchers have clarified the biochemical mechanism allowing DHA and related fatty acids to slow the development of tumors inside the body. The team says this is a major advance, and it was recently published in a scientific journal.

In 2016, researchers discovered that cells in an acidic microenvironment within tumors replace glucose with lipids as an energy source to multiply. In 2020 the scientists demonstrated that the same cells are the most aggressive and acquire the ability to leave the original tumor, causing the cancer to metastasize. Researchers began to evaluate the behavior of tumor cells in the presence of different types of fatty acids.

The team discovered that certain fatty acids stimulated tumor cells while other fatty acids killed them. The team found that DHA poisons cancer cells. DHA attacks cancer cells via phenomena known as ferroptosis, which is a type of cell death linked to the peroxidation of certain fatty acids. The higher the number of unsaturated fatty acids in the cell, the greater the risk of their oxidation. Typically, an acidic environment inside tumor cells forces cells to store fatty acids in lipid droplets that protect them from oxidation.

However, in the presence of large amounts of DHA, tumor cells are overwhelmed and can't store the DHA, which oxidizes, leading to cell death. The team used a lipid metabolism inhibitor to prevent the formation of lipid droplets and observe that the phenomenon was further amplified, confirming the identified mechanisms and opening the doors to potential combined treatments. The team used a 3D tumor cell culture system known as spheroids and found in the presence of DHA, the spheroid's first grow and then implode.

The team administered DHA-enriched diets to mice with tumors, and tumor development was significantly slowed compared to a conventional diet. Researchers recommend that adults consume at least 250 milligrams of DHA per day, significantly below the 50 to 100 milligrams per day of the average diet.