Did you know that 80% of breast cancers are estrogen-positive cancers? Most people think that “estrogen positive” means that estrogen caused the cancer. But it doesn’t. However, it does mean that estrogen stimulates the growth of the cancer. That’s why oncologists prescribe anti-estrogen drugs for estrogen-positive breast cancer. What most people haven’t heard is that one of my favorite supplements can make these drugs even more effective.
Preclinical data indicate that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements improve the effect of these anti-estrogen drugs.
But what about women who do not have cancer but are at a higher risk for it? Would they be able to decrease their risk by taking fish oil supplements? The answer will surprise you.
Just last month, researchers reported on a two-year experiment to answer this question. To do the experiment, they looked at 266 healthy postmenopausal women with high density breast readings (>25%) on a mammogram. Women with high density breasts are four to six times more likely to get breast cancer. Of these, 50% were at a healthy weight. Another 20% were obese, as defined by having a BMI (body mass index) over 29. And the rest (30%) were in between. They divided the women into five groups.
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One group did not use any treatment. The researchers gave two other groups the same anti-estrogen drug in two different doses. They gave the fourth group 4 grams of high-quality fish oil. And they gave the fifth group a combination of the fish oil and the drug. During the experiment, they checked the levels of the two primary components of fish oil, EPA and DHA. The idea was to see if in two years any of the treatments would be able to decrease breast density and thus lower the risk of cancer. Here’s what happened.
Only one group of women showed any benefit at all. It was the obese group. That group was the only group to show a decrease in absolute breast density. What’s more, the decrease happened only in the women who were taking the fish oil. And specifically, the higher the DHA levels were, the more effective the fish oil was at decreasing the density readings. In the words of one of the authors of the study, Dr. Andrea Manni, “The finding supports the idea that omega-3s, and specifically DHA, are preferentially protective in obese postmenopausal women.”
So if you’re a woman with dense breasts, particularly if your BMI is over 29, or if you are a woman fighting estrogen-positive breast cancer, be sure to start taking fish oil supplements. And let me make this suggestion. You can buy special fish oil supplements that have a high 6:1 ratio of DHA to EPA. Take 2 grams of one of these supplements and two grams of Complete Daily Oils to insure that you get the best protection.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Sandhu N, Schetter SE, et al. Influence of Obesity on Breast Density Reduction by Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Evidence from a Randomized Clinical Trial. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2016 Apr;9(4):275-82.