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Omega-3 Fats Prevent Breast Cancer

French researchers evaluated 241 patients with breast cancer and analyzed their fat relative to 88 women with benign breast lumps. Their findings clearly showed that omega-3 fatty acids, which are found primarily in cold water fish (such as salmon), flaxseed and walnuts, offer significant protection against breast cancer. Those women whose fatty breast tissue had the most omega-3 fats had between a 61% to 69% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women with the lowest levels of these protective fats.

The researchers also found that a woman’s ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats played a significant role in her breast cancer risk— those women with the lowest ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats had a 67% lower risk for breast cancer compared to women with the most omega-6 fats in comparison to their levels of omega-3s.

Although essential for health, omega-6 fats, which are highest in meat, dairy products, and corn, sunflower and safflower oils, should be balanced in a woman’s diet by adequate consumption of foods rich in omega-3s. In the typical American diet, omega-3s are virtually non-existent, while omega-6s are excessively high. Experts disagree as to the ideal ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s, but most suggest a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats of between 1:4 and 1:6. Making cold-water fish (such as salmon, tuna and sardines), walnuts, and flaxseed oil staples in your healthy way of eating will ensure your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is a protective one.

Practical Tips

Here are a few of the World’s Healthiest Foods quick serving ideas to help you reap the cancer-protective benefits of salmon, flaxseed and walnuts:

  • Place left-over cold salmon, a thin slice of sweet onion, and some lettuce or other greens between two pieces of whole wheat bread, garnish with a little mayo to which you’ve added a sprinkle of dill and enjoy an exceptionally good sandwich.
  • Combine soft tofu and baked salmon in blender with lemon juice, scallions and parsley to create a delicious dip.
  • Serve baked salmon over whole wheat pasta. Top with a sauce made with olive oil, dill weed, lemon peel, scallions and black pepper.
  • Sprinkle ground flaxseeds over your hot or cold cereal.
  • To pump up the nutritional volume of your breakfast shake, add ground flax seeds.
  • Give cooked vegetables a nuttier flavor by sprinkling ground flaxseeds over them.
  • Use flaxseed oil instead of other oils in salad dressings, as an oil for dipping bread or to drizzle over steamed vegetables, baked potatoes, whole grain pasta or brown rice.
  • Mix crushed walnuts into plain yogurt and top with maple syrup.
  • Add walnuts to healthy sautéed vegetables.
  • Purée walnuts, cooked lentils and your favorite herbs and spices in a food processor.
  • Add enough olive or flax oil to achieve a dip-like consistency.
  • Sprinkle walnuts onto salads.
  • To learn more about these breast cancer-protective members of the World’s Healthiest Foods, click salmon, flaxseed or walnuts.

    Want more suggestions for ways to enjoy salmon, flaxseeds and walnuts more frequently as part of your healthy way of eating? For a list of the World’s Healthiest Foods’ recipes containing these foods, click on the Recipe Assistant, select salmon, flaxseed or walnuts on the healthy foods list, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all of the World's Healthiest Foods' recipes containing the food chosen will appear immediately below.

    Research Summary

    Researchers in Tours, central France, evaluated the hypothesis that omega-3 fatty acids protect against breast cancer by examining the fatty acid composition of fatty breast tissue from 241 patients with invasive, nonmetastatic breast cancer and from 88 patients with benign breast disease.. The fatty acid composition of their breast tissue was used as an indicator of the women’s past dietary intake of fatty acids.

    The researchers found inverse associations between breast cancer-risk and the women’s breast tissue levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Women with the highest levels of the omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid, which is found in flaxseeds and walnuts, had a 61% lower risk for breast cancer compared to women with the lowest levels of this protective fat.

    Similarly, women with the highest levels of docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fat found in cold water fish, had a 69% lower risk for breast cancer compared to women with the lowest amounts of omega-3s.

    Women who had the highest ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s had a 67% lower risk for breast cancer compared to women with the lowest ratio of omega-3s to 6s.

    The researchers concluded that their data showed omega-3 fats provide a protective effect on breast cancer risk and also support the hypothesis that the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids plays a role in breast cancer.

    Reference: Maillard V, Bougnoux P, Ferrari P, Jourdan ML, Pinault M, Lavillonniere F, Body G, Le Floch O, Chajes V. N-3 and N-6 fatty acids in breast adipose tissue and relative risk of breast cancer in a case-control study in Tours, France. Int J Cancer 2002 Mar 1;98(1):78-83.


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