"Our finding clearly supports the evidence from previous experimental and clinical studies showing that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids inhibit tumor growth," said the study's lead author, Sangmi Kim, a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
Kim said the research supports boosting omega-3 intake through diet or perhaps by taking an omega-3 supplement. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, sardines and tuna. Plant-based sources include flax and flaxseed oil, Brussels sprouts, soybeans and soybean oil, canola oil, spinach, walnuts and kiwi.
Previous studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids act as anti-inflammatory agents and help prevent cancer. But in the new study, Forman noted, participants were asked about their diets after they had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer so it's possible that their recollections were not fully accurate.
In addition, she said, it's possible that the benefit was not the result of omega-3s. Those who ate more fish might have had a healthier diet overall, she said.
"Were they eating a salmon-and-broccoli diet or a hamburger-and-french-fry diet?" Forman asked. "We don't know enough to say that it's truly the effect of the omega-3s."
The American Association for Cancer Research has more on colorectal cancer.
SOURCES: Luigina Bonelli, M.D., head, secondary prevention and screening unit, National Institute for Cancer Research, Genoa, Italy; Michele Forman, Ph.D., professor, epidemiology, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas, Houston; Sangmi Kim, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, National Insti
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