A clinical trial named the VITAL study found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation/intake is not associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer precursors such as colorectal adenomas and serrated polyps. The potential benefit of omega-3 fatty acid supplements/sources for reducing colorectal polyps in individuals with low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and African Americans requires confirmation in future studies.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are a class of fatty acids which are not produced by the body and are obtained from our daily diet or dietary supplements. The three main types of omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are mostly found in marine sources such as fishes and fish oil supplements while ALA is commonly obtained from plant sources such as walnuts, vegetable oils and seeds like Chia seeds and flax seeds.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplements have been in the spotlight for many years for their anti-inflammatory effects and benefits on cardiovascular health, brain and mental health, joint pain, etc. However, the role of omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil supplements in the prevention of different types of cancers is still unclear. Let us have a closer look into one of the studies published recently which evaluated the association of marine omega-3 fatty acid and the risk of colorectal adenomas.
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Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Colorectal Adenoma Risk
Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, United states conducted an ancillary study within a large scale randomized clinical trial named the VITAL (Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial) Study (Clinical Trial ID : NCT01169259), in order to evaluate the association of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and the risk of colorectal adenomas and polyps. (Mingyang Song et al, JAMA Oncol. 2019) Polyps are small growths found on the inner lining of the colon or rectum.In this study, colorectal adenomas and polyps are considered as the precursors for colorectal cancer. Studying the effects of omega-3 fatty acid on these cancer precursors is beneficial, as it generally takes time for the cancer to develop and the effects of these supplements on the risk of cancer may become prominent only after several years. The study was done on 25,871 adults in the United States without cancer or cardiovascular disease, and included 12,933 adults who received 1g marine omega-3 fatty acid and 12938 control subjects, with a medium follow-up of 5.3 years.
Towards the end of the study period, the researchers collected medical records from 999 participants who reported a diagnosis of colorectal adenomas/polyps. (Mingyang Song et al, JAMA Oncol. 2019) The key findings from this study are listed below:
- 294 people from the group who received marine omega-3 fatty acid and 301 from the control group reported a diagnosis of colorectal adenomas.
- 174 people from the omega-3 fatty acid group and 167 from the control group reported a diagnosis of serrated polyps.
- According to a subgroup analysis, supplementation of marine omega-3 fatty acid was associated with a 24% reduced risk of conventional colorectal adenomas in individuals with low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Supplementation of marine omega-3 fatty acids appeared to have a potential benefit in the African American population but not in other groups.
In short, the study suggests that omega-3 fatty acids supplementation/intake is not associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer precursors such as colorectal adenomas and serrated polyps. More research is needed to confirm the potential benefits of this supplementation in individuals with low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and African Americans. Omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil supplements may still be beneficial for our heart, brain and mental health and will have to be taken in the right quantities to stay healthy. However, excessive supplementation/intake of omega-3 fatty acid/sources can be detrimental due to its blood-thinning effect, especially if you are already taking a blood-thinner or aspirin. Hence, before consuming the dietary supplements, always make it a point to discuss with your nutritionist or health care provider and understand the dosage of the supplement that suits you the best.
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