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Omega-3s Hamper Growth of Liver Cancers
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Evidence of omega-3s’ anti-cancer powers continues to accumulate

by Craig Weatherby

Liver cancers rank among the rarest kinds, but they are especially deadly. Last week, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh presented the findings from two new studies, which suggest that marine omega-3s fatty acids from fish can significantly inhibit the growth of liver cancer cells.

The studies were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Washington, D.C., and the results suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be an effective therapy for both the treatment and prevention of human liver cancers.

The first study tested the effects of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the most common type of human liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma), and looked for the biological mechanisms responsible for any observed effects.

Lead author Tong Wu, M.D., Ph.D. and his colleagues found that one of the two key omega-3s in fish fat, called DHA, induced programmed death of two kinds of liver cancer cells—a process called apoptosis—by promoting the splitting of a protein called PARP.

In addition, both of the key omega-3s—DHA and EPA—helped lower cellular levels of beta–catein: a protein linked to development of liver tumors.

The second study showed that the marine omega-3s exerted similar inhibitory effects on rarer cholangiocarcinoma liver-tumor cells.

And the omega-3s hampered the liver cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner—that is, the higher the dose, the greater the anti-cancer effect—which strengthens the widely held hypothesis that these nutrients possess anti-cancer powers.

As Dr. Wu said, “…these compounds have the ability to interact on several points of pathways involved in tumor progression.”

Prior experiments like this one show that omega-3s can undermine cancer cells from several angles at once.

This versatility explains why omega-3s make extraordinarily effective nutritional allies against cancer cells, which can often adapt to an attack from any one or two angles.

According to Dr. Wu, his team’s findings indicate that marine omega-3s may also help protect the liver from fatty liver disease (steatohepatitis), which is a suspected precursor of the most common type of liver cancer.

To view our previous articles on omega-3s and cancer, visit our newsletter archive, enter “cancer” (without quote marks) in the search box at upper right, and click the “submit” tab.


  • Lim K, Han C, Xu L, Zhao L, Wu T. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids inhibit hepatocellular carcinoma cell growth through downregulation of beta-catenin/wnt signaling pathway.  Abstract Number 2679, 97th AACR Annual Meeting April 1-5, 2006, Washington, DC.
  • Lim K, Han C, Xu L, Zhao L, Wu T. Evidence for inhibition of beta-catenin/Wnt signaling in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid-induced apoptosis of human cholangiocarcinoma cells. Abstract Number 2680, 97th AACR Annual Meeting April 1-5, 2006, Washington, DC.

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