Omega-3 fatty acid in fish can poison and kill cancerous tumors

OTTIGNIES-LOUVAIN-LA-NEUVE, Belgium — Omega-3 fatty acids are already popular among people looking for ways to improve their heart health. Now, a new study is revealing how these chemicals may also provide a key ingredient in killing cancerous tumors. Researchers in Belgium say fatty acids, commonly found in fish, poison cancer cells and cause them to implode.

DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is among the Omega-3 fatty acids which can slow the development of tumors. While the recommended amount of DHA is 250 mg a day, roughly half a serving of seabass, researchers discovered that consuming as little as 50 mg a day shows benefits in fighting the disease.

Study authors explain that the fish oil “overwhelms” the tumor cells by causing them to oxidize, which leads to cell death. Using a lipid metabolism inhibitor, researchers were able to further amplify this effect, sparking new hope for fighting and slowing cancer cases worldwide.

Globally, almost one in six deaths each year lists cancer as the cause. In 2020, doctors diagnosed around 19.3 million new cancer cases and almost 10 million people died from the disease. Female breast cancer ranks as the most commonly diagnosed form. Despite this, researchers believe less than one in five people are consuming the daily recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

DHA found in omega-3 fatty acids is key

cancer tumor
(Credit: University of Louvain)

In the new study, researchers tested their process using a 3D tumor cell culture system, which shows that in the presence of DHA the tumors first grow, and then implode. The team also administered a DHA-enriched diet to mice with tumors which reveals tumor development significantly slowed in comparison to that in mice on a conventional diet.

“We soon found that certain fatty acids stimulated the tumor cells while others killed them,” says Professor Yvan Larondelle from the University of Louvain in a release. “DHA literally poisons them.”

“It’s recommended to consume at least 250 mg of DHA per day. But studies show that our diet provides on average only 50 to 100 mg per day. This is well below the minimum recommended intake,” study authors conclude.

The findings appear in the journal Cell Metabolism.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.