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Omega-3s may reduce the risk of colon cancer: the anti-inflammatory fatty acids appear to have many other health benefits, too.

You may have read about the heart health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, a key element in fish oil, but new research also suggests that omega-3s may also have anti-cancer properties.

A study published online April 14 in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that omega-3 consumption can significantly reduce your odds of developing colon cancer. In the study of about 2,000 adults, study subjects were divided into four groups based on then consumption of omega-3s. Those in the top fourth (who consumed the most omega-3s) had half the colon cancer risk as those in the bottom fourth. A separate, smaller study, published in the March 18 issue of the journal Gut found that people who took eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a form of omega-3 fatty acid, had fewer polyps in their colons and that the size of the polyps declined among those taking EPA. The other main form of omega-3 is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an important element in healthy brain function.

Researchers suggest that omega-3 s can help reduce inflammation that can be at the root of heart disease, colon and other cancers, brain disorders and many other health problems.

"Omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory properties," says dietitian Dana Ellis Hunnes, RD, with the UCLA Medical Center. "Polyunsaturated fats such as omega-6s, found in sunflower and safflower oils, when consumed with sugars and refined grain products, have been shown to be pro-inflammatory. In addition, omega-6 polyunsaturated fats may oxidize quickly, which also may lead to pro-inflammatory reactions. Omega-3s do not seem to have these properties."
Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Source             Serving size  Omega-3s

Walnuts            1/4 cup       2.27 g
Salmon             4 oz          2.09 g
Flaxseeds          2 T           3.51 g
Soybeans (cooked)  1 cup         1.09 g
Sardines           One           1.36 g
Halibut            4 oz          0.62 g
Scallops           4 oz          0.35 g
Yellowfin tuna     4 oz          0.33 g

High levels of omega-3s are found in fish oils and nut oils (walnut, flaxseed), while omega-6s are found in higher levels in vegetable oils. There are also many other dietary sources for omega-3s (see chart).

Controllable risk factors. In addition to consuming fish oil or plenty of dietary omega-3s, there are other lifestyle choices you can make to help preserve colon health. One of the best things you can do to help preserve colon health is consume fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, Hunnes says.

"They're full of phytonutrients and antioxidants. This can help bulk stool and increase elimination, which maintains colon health," Hunnes says. "It's also important to drink enough water to help move toxins out of the body faster. Decreased fat intake also decreases overall inflammation and oxidation."

Internist Katherine Kahn, MD, with the UCLA Health System, also recommends preventive measures such as regular colon cancer screenings. The frequency of screenings after that will depend on family history, the discovery of polyps during screenings, and other factors.

"Patients with standard colon cancer risk should begin screening at age 50 and continue screening until their doctor agrees they should stop," Dr. Kahn says. "There are multiple options for screening, so you should discuss them with your doctor and determine the best one for you."

Omega-3s and omega-6s. Hunnes says that omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to help protect heart and brain health, as well as help reduce depression symptoms. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s are also good for the skin, hair and fingernails, too.

It's hard to go overboard on omega-3s, too. Omega-6s, however, are more complicated. They have significant health benefits (good for the skin, can help relieve the discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis, help prevent diabetic neuropathy, etc.), but only if they are consumed in moderation. The typical American diet has more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s, but that's a ratio that should be reversed.


* Talk with your doctor about fish oil supplements, especially if you feel your diet is not supplying enough omega-3 fatty acids.

* Stay current with your colon cancer screenings.

* Limit your intake of foods heavy in, saturated fats, such as red and processed meats.
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Title Annotation:NUTRITION
Publication:Healthy Years
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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