Increasing evidence from animal and in vitro studies indicates that n-3 fatty acids, especially the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, present in fatty fish and fish oils inhibit carcinogenesis.

The epidemiologic data on the association between fish consumption, as a surrogate marker for n-3 fatty acid intake, and cancer risk are, however, somewhat less consistent.

This review highlights current knowledge of the potential mechanisms of the anticarcinogenic actions of n-3 fatty acids. Moreover, a possible explanation of why some epidemiologic studies failed to find an association between n-3 fatty acid intake and cancer risk is provided.

Several molecular mechanisms whereby n-3 fatty acids may modify the carcinogenic process have been proposed. These include suppression of arachidonic acid-derived eicosanoid biosynthesis; influences on transcription factor activity, gene expression, and signal transduction pathways; alteration of estrogen metabolism; increased or decreased production of free radicals and reactive oxygen species; and mechanisms involving insulin sensitivity and membrane fluidity.

Further studies are needed to evaluate and verify these mechanisms in humans to gain more understanding of the effects of n-3 fatty acid intake on cancer risk.

PMID: 15159222

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