Superfoods such as chia seeds and flax seeds, a rich source of poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, have been shown to have beneficial anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects. However, excessive use of these superfoods such as chia-seeds and flax-seeds rich in linoleic acid could be harmful to gastric cancer patients by promoting cancer growth and spread, as highlighted by an NIH study.
Linoleic Acid in Chia and Flax Seeds
The easiest way for people to start feeling physically healthy is often through eating and snacking on healthy and organic foods. Through this, different societal trends and fads emerge which turn into an active lifestyle for many who can afford it. Superfoods such as chia seeds and flax seeds are gaining popularity for their multitude of health benefits including lowering the risk of heart disease, lowering blood sugar levels and many others. They are a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid (LA) which are plant based fatty acids that are not produced by the body and must come from the diet. Since the use of chia and flax seeds as superfoods in the western diet has become a fad, more and more studies are being done on the potential effect that a high intake of alpha linolenic acid and linoleic acid can have on cancer patients.
Use of Chia Seed & Flax Seeds rich in Linoleic Acid in Gastric Cancer
Recent studies have shown that while ALA has anti-inflammatory and beneficial effects for cancer related complications (Freitas and Campos, Nutrients, 2019), excessive linoleic acid can contribute to multiple steps in cancer invasion (Nishioka N et al, Br J Cancer. 2011). A study was done by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH, to test this theory out and their results showed the inherent dangers that excessive dietary fatty acids such as Linoleic Acid found in chia-seeds and flax-seeds can have on gastric cancer. The study highlighted that Linoleic Acid enhanced the sprouting of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) and “increased dietary LA-enhanced tumor growth in an animal model” (Nishioka N et al, Br J Cancer. 2011). Angiogenesis is basically the development of new blood vessels to supply nutrients and oxygen which are necessary for normal growth and healing. But tumors have a greater need of oxygen and nutrients supplied by the blood vessels for their rapid growth and spread, which is why increased angiogenesis is not favorable in cancer treatment.
Based on the results from these studies on dietary fatty acids, it is clear that intaking a moderate amount of ‘superfoods’ such as chia and flax seeds which contain a high amount of PUFAs may help slow down the progression of certain cancer types. If taken in high levels, dietary linoleic acid may promote metastasis of different tumors like gastric carcinoma and mess with cancer invasion processes as well (Matsuoka T et al, Br J Cancer. 2010).
Alpha linolenic acid and linoleic acid being essential fatty acids, are not produced by our body and must come from the diet. The goal of this blog is not to completely stop people from taking chia seeds or flax seeds; instead, the purpose is to highlight the possible risks associated with its use and how careful cancer patients have to be with what they intake when undergoing therapy. Just because a food is “natural” or “organic”, one should not conclude that it will reduce cancer or have no negative impacts.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.