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Fatty acid composition in diet is a factor in prostate cancer metastases

Most men, if they live long enough, develop prostate cancer. Whether or not they are affected by it depends to some extent on whether the cancer cells spread throughout the body. If you consume relatively large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and relatively low amounts of omega-3 fatty acids you are more likely to develop secondary tumours. This is suggested in an in-vitro study published ten years ago by researchers at Cancer Research UK in the British Journal of Cancer.

Cancer and fatty acids
Some nutritionists believe that our diet contains too large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega-6 type, and too little polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega-3 type. Omega-6 fatty acids are found primarily in plants and omega-3 fatty acids mainly in oily fish.

An imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, according to the worried nutritionists at least, has a range of negative health effects. One of these is that the excess omega-6 fatty acids help cancer cells to spread through the body.

In 2006 British cancer researchers published a study which would seem to back up this statement.

The researchers mixed prostate cancer cells with bone cells - bone marrow stroma cells [BMS] -in test tubes. They then added the fatty acids arachidonic acid, EPA and DHA to the cells and watched whether this speeded up the migration process. When aggressive forms of prostate cancer spread, the tumours nearly always appear in bone tissue. You can see this in the photo below - the black patches.

Fatty acid composition in diet is a factor in prostate cancer metastases

EPA and DHA are the two most important fatty acids in oily fish and fish oil supplements. They are omega-3 fatty acids. Arachidonic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that is created in the body through the conversion of linoleic acid, the most important polyunsaturated fatty acid in sunflower oil, maize oil and soya oil.

Arachidonic acid [AA] stimulated the formation of metastases in the bone cells, as the figure below on the right shows.

BMS = bone cells only, without the addition of fatty acids.

Fatty acid composition in diet is a factor in prostate cancer metastases

The figures above show that EPA and DHA actually inhibited the spread of tumours.

The researchers repeated their experiment, but exposed the prostate cancer cells to a combination of arachidonic acid and EPA [first figure below] and arachidonic acid and DHA [second figure]. The concentration of arachidonic acid was 10 micromols. Both EPA and DHA blocked the stimulatory effect of arachidonic acid.

AA = arachidonic acid only.

Fatty acid composition in diet is a factor in prostate cancer metastases

DHA and EPA in combination with the inflammatory factor PGE2 did not inhibit the migration of the prostate cancer cells.

Fatty acid composition in diet is a factor in prostate cancer metastases

The body makes PGE2 from arachidonic acid. Fatty acids such as DHA and EPA sabotage the conversion of arachidonic acid into PGE2.

"We have provided in vitro evidence supporting the epidemiological data that the dietary ratio of omega-3:omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids is crucial in determining the risk of metastatic disease in prostate cancer", the researchers summarised.

"Arachidonic acid is a potent stimulator of malignant prostate epithelial cells invasion and is a major component of the stimulus directing metastatic prostate epithelial cells to the bone marrow stroma to form bone metastases. As the epidemiological data suggests, increasing the ratio of omega-3:omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, in particular increasing the amount of EPA in the diet, can inhibit the metastatic process by blocking the production of PGE2 and therefore reducing the risk of aggressive disease."

Br J Cancer. 2006 Mar 27;94(6):842-53.

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