PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Taking fish oil pills — which contain omega-3 fatty acids — could help immunotherapy drugs cure cancer, a new study reveals.
Researchers found omega-3 supplements boost these drugs’ ability to attack tumors. In experiments with mice, the combination slashed cancer’s spread through the body by two-thirds. Lead author Abigail Kelly, a research assistant at Harvard University, describes the results as “very promising.”
“Dietary interventions can be powerful tools because they are relatively simple and inexpensive to implement,” Kelly says in a media release.
“Our findings show that omega-3 supplementation has the potential to broadly improve immunotherapy and other anti-cancer drugs in the clinical setting.”
Medications which stimulate the body’s own immune system have revolutionized cancer treatment. However, they don’t work for everyone.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements typically come in three forms: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Individuals looking to consume more healthy fatty acids via food should eat more oily fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and related oils. Some foods like eggs and milk are often fortified with the three types of omega-3 fatty acids.
Studies have suggested that consuming these foods reduce cancer risk. They’re also readily available as over-the-counter supplements, with a global annual market worth billions of dollars.
Omega-6 has the opposite effect
The new study reveals omega-3 increases the effectiveness of immunotherapy and anti-inflammatory cancer drugs. Aggressive tumors in treated lab rodents shrunk by 67 percent when researchers added the fatty acids to the animals’ standard diets.
Scientists believe they act in tandem, making the combined effect greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, mice consuming fatty acids from meat and eggs, known as omega-6, saw negative results.
“We demonstrated, for the first time, that the combination of immunotherapy and anti-inflammatory treatment (sEHi) was more effective when mice were fed diets enriched with omega-3 fatty acids,” Kelly reports. “This is very promising because dietary supplementation is easy to implement for cancer patients and can be added for patients already on immunotherapy.”
The researchers are now looking at the mechanism behind the anti-tumor activity of omega-3 supplementation. They are carrying out studies with human cancer tissues and cells, human immune cells, and animal models. The discovery offers a potential new treatment for patients.
Previous studies also point to fish oil supplements as being a beneficial substance for lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s.
Researchers are presenting the findings at the American Society for Investigative Pathology’s 2022 meeting in Philadelphia.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.