There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: a-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is plant-based and found in such edible seeds as flaxseed and in oils, such as soy, canola and hemp oil. EPA and DHA are found in marine life, such as fish, algae and phytoplankton.
The study involved feeding the different types of omega-3s to mice with a highly aggressive form of human breast cancer called HER-2. HER-2 affects 25per cent of women and has a poor prognosis.
Ma exposed the mice to either the plant-based or the marine-based omega-3s, beginning in utero.
"The mice were exposed to the different omega-3s even before tumours developed, which allowed us to compare how effective the fatty acids are at prevention," said Ma. "It's known that EPA and DHA can inhibit breast tumour growth, but no one has looked directly at how effective these omega-3s are compared to ALA."
Based on the doses given in the study, Ma said humans should consume two to three servings of fish a week to have the same effect.
Besides certain foods containing EPA and DHA, supplements and functional foods, such as omega-3 eggs or DHA milk, can offer similar cancer prevention effects, he added.
The next step is to investigate the effects of omega-3s on other forms of breast cancer.
The study has been published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. (ANI)