Omega-3, fish oils, krill oil, flaxseed and cancer

Omega-3, fish oils, krill oil, flaxseed and cancer

People get very confused about omega-3, fish oil, krill oil, flaxseed and so on. They also get confused about omega-3, 6 and 9. So what’s the truth? In summary, omega-3 is far more beneficial than 6 and 9. And the omega-3 from fish has completely different benefits (anti-inflammatory, longevity, brain health, cachexia minimisation) to that of flaxseed (toxin elimination, antioxidant, anti-oestrogen). And there is little conversion between the two - you need to eat both (Chris Woollams. CANCER active). 

The long and the short of omega-3

Few people realise that several hundred years ago our diets contained much higher levels of omega-3. This wasn’t just because we ate more ’plants’.  Our ’free-range’ fish, meat and game contained far, far higher levels of omega-3 than the mass-market produce we have in our supermarkets today. 

Be clear. Animal and fish omega-3 is very different to plant omega-3. Fish omega-3 is ’long-chain’; plant omega-3 is short-chain. They have completely different benefits in the human body.  Moreover, there is only a small conversion between the two and increasing evidence that vegans have shortages of long-chain omega-3. 

Another important requirement for health is to maintain a balance in our diets with total levels of omega-3 being equal to, or greater than, the total level of omega-6 plus omega-9 and -12 consumed. Nowadays, a typical New York dweller is likely to consume 1 unit of omega-3 to almost 50 units of the others. No wonder health is suffering; the balance is completely wrong.It is frankly debatable whether you even need to supplement with omega-6, omega-9 and omega-12; nowadays we get too much of them in our food anyway.

Open quotesAnimal and plant Omega-3 have almost completely different benefitsClose quotes

Some 50 years ago, many mothers ensured adequate levels of omega-3 consumption, by giving their children a daily spoonful of fish oils, cod liver oil being the preferred ’delicacy’. However, this is habit was in major decline for several decades until 2010, although a resurgence is now being seen, especially after studies showing fish oil helps in brain development and IQ.

Fish oils contain long-chain omega-3 and, depending upon the fish, both vitamin A and vitamin D, while most contain good levels of selenium. These four are all supported by numerous research studies suggesting they may have active roles in fighting cancer. However there’ is a concern. Thanks to the pollution of our seas and to the fact that oil is a good solvent, impure fish oils may contain toxins such as mercury, PCB’s, heavy metals and even radioactive poisons. The FDA and the Environmental Agency in America have warned children and pregnant women against consuming certain fish and shell fish due to toxins. You should also be aware that fish oil can turn rancid and so should be stored in the ’fridge.

Fish oil benefits: Two fats in fish omega-3 oils are important polyunsaturated fatty acids - DHA, or Docosahexaenoic acid and EPA, or Eicosapentaenoic acid. These are crucial to your health and have been shown to alter the gut microbiome producing anti-inflammatory molecules which can calm the body and the brain. Benefits shown in research include:

*** Less inflammation, heart health, lower blood pressure, better brain function, higher IQ in children, lowered risk of Alzheimer’s, lowered risk of arthritis, lowered risk of cancer, less risk of cachexia, less inflammatory cancer spread, reduction of ADHD, anxiety and symptoms of depression.

Open quotesALA only converts at 14% to EPA and hardly at all to DHAClose quotes

Flaxseed benefits: Many vegetarians tell me that you don’t need to take fish oils; flaxseed is just as good. They are wrong. Flaxseed omega-3 has its own benefits - it is a completely different oil: alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. Flaxseeds are a very high source of lignans - more than seven times higher than their closest rival, sesame seeds. Lignans are capable of binding to cholesterol in the blood and helping remove it from the body. They are antioxidants and phytoestrogens, capable of altering estrogen levels in the body and binding to estrogen receptor sites prevent chemical estrogen or estradiol binding. Lignin are also polyphenols and promote beneficial gut bacteria.

These seeds must be ground to release their benefits before consumption, or they will just pass straight though you. Flaxseed has a number of other benefits including minerals like magnesium and manganese and plant proteins, and I far prefer consuming the seeds to the oil, as the benefits are greater including: 

*** Oestrogen balance/reduction, blood oxygenation, commensal bacteria growth, elimination of toxins. 

Sometimes flaxseeds are called linseeds, and they come from the same plant. Linseed oil can be made by boiling the seeds, but this should never be consumed.

The long and the short of it is you should include both ’long’ and ’short’ in your daily diet. 

Krill oils

As a result of concerns over pollution, krill oil has become the important alternative as the habitat for this minute ’prawn’ tends to be a long way from environmental toxins. Krill are very tiny shrimp-like creatures which are a major food source for fish, seals and even whales and birds. Together with plankton, they form the largest  biomass in the ocean; they are at the very bottom of the food chain and their primary home is the clear, cold water of the Antarctic, so they do not contain the toxins associated with fish oils. Krill are pink in colour due to the presence of ’Astaxanthin’, a powerful antioxidant which is being shown to have many claims to fame in major clinical trials. 

Go to: The benefits of Astaxanthin

Importantly, the benefits of Astaxanthin are multiplied in the presence of long-chain omega-3.

Krill have been consumed (for example, by the Japanese as a delicacy) for over 200 years. Not only are they good sources of omega-3 oils, but the oils are contained in phospholipid ’packages’ which make them more easily absorbed by your cells. One phospholipid is phosphotidyl choline - choline crosses the blood/brain barrier and nourishes the brain.

Go to: Pure Krill Oil with astaxanthin

"I’m vegan so I don’t want to eat fish oils"

Always a tricky one, and I respect everybody that does not want to eat fish, meat etc. I can only tell you what the research says. Research from Cornell shows that multi-generation vegetarians and vegans actually have genetic modifications in their DNA. These are called alleles and develop over a number of generations, allowing descendants to turn plant omega-3 into long-chain. Unfortunately, if you simply become a vegetarian or vegan, you won’t have the allele.  

"I eat lots of fish so don’t need to supplement with fish omega-3"

It would be nice to think you could consume all the omega-3 you needed simply by consuming oily fish. You cannot. Research in Cancer Watch showed canned ’oily fish’ was almost ’dry’, and most people ate fish sporadically, and not the right sort! Supplementing daily beat consuming fresh oily fish considerably.

Next, there are lots of products on the market that only contain omega-6 (vening primrose oil) or ’the perfect blend’ of 3, 6 and 9. But be careful. Very careful. Which you do need some omega-6 for example, too much of the wrong sorts causes inflammation in the body. Do you really need to add any more omega-6 and omega-9 to your body?

The opposite is true. By providing adequate long-chain omega-3 in your diet, research from the University of Gotherburg (Cell Metabolism, August 2015) has shown that the profile of your gut bacteria changes significantly for the better. The research showed that gut bacteria can be incredibly inflammatory if the wrong ones had been encouraged to multiply by poor food choices. But, that a daily consumption of fish oils could produce a colony that favoured anti-inflammatory bacteria. And chronic inflammation is the precursor to many chronic illnesses. Hence the power of long-chain omega-3.      

Go to: Fish oil research from the University of Gothenburg    

                                                                                              * * * * * * * * 

Fish Omega-3 - best sources

You may have read a lot about omega-3, omega-6 and even omega-9 oils. Let’s clear up a few things first. Oils are the same as fats but in the liquid form. 

Long-chain omega-3 oils only come from oil-rich fish. Table A shows the relative benefits of these various cold, salt-water fish.

TABLE ALipid contentOmega 3
Cod Liver oil100.0 20.0
Rock Salmon (dogfish)9.72.3

Volumes in gms per 100 gms of edible portion

The origins of these long chain polyunsaturated fats are the microscopic algae,  plankton and krill that the fish feed on. Sadly, of course, fish farming methods may mean less consumption of these vital nutrients.

Short-chain omega-3 oil (alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) is found in flaxseed, linseed and rapeseed amongst others. Walnuts is another source.

By contrast omega-6 (linoleic acid) is found in sunflower, sesame and safflower oils; in its gamma form it is found in evening primrose oil and borage.

The benefits of omega-3 fish oil

So let’s look at the benefits - many of which derive from the anti-inflammatory properties of long-chain omega-3. However, as we said above, short-chain has very different benefits and you should seriously consider consuming both.

1. Omega-3 and your brain

Earliest man consumed omega-3 from a variety of sources - plants, game and even from animal skulls - even the brain left behind in the carcass of a dinosaur victim! Your brain contains high levels of omega-3.

If you are thinking of buying omega-3 or krill oil, you might like to look in the Natural Selection Shop. You can do this by clicking here

Omega-3 is thought to be linked to our intelligence; children who took daily supplementation were shown, in US studies, by the age of 12 years, to have lQs 11 per cent higher than those that didn’t.  In three research studies with problematic teenagers in American Institutional care, those given omega-3 supplements were found to have less behavioural problems at the end of the studies. 

A deficiency of Omega-3 has also been linked in research to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Three studies from the USA in 2008, all recorded in the American Journal of Nutrition studied the health and longevity of the elderly. The results showed that people with low blood levels of omega-3 had a higher risk of death from all causes and an accelerated brain function decline.

The findings also showed that supplementation needed to be a life-time habit and that short term ’pushes’ had little effect.

2. Omega-3 and ageing 

Telomeres are protective proteins that sit on cells and gradually shorten over time as your cells divide and repair themselves. This shortening process is thought to be linked to ageing.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, have found that omega-3 fatty acids prevent the shortening process (Journal of the American Medical Association). In a study of 608 patients across a 5 year period, those with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood experienced a slowing of the shortening of their telomeres, indicating that the fatty acids help to slow the ageing process. The study did not differentiate between the specific sources of omega-3s, (whether from fish or flaxseed or from supplements).

Telomeres have been likened to the plastic caps on the ends of shoelaces that keep them from unraveling, indicating that they maintain the integrity of cells. Problems with telomeres have been linked to a number of diseases.

In particular, telomeres are known to shorten considerably with cancer. Long-chain omega-3 has been shown by UCLA to re-lengthen the telomeres in some cases.

3. Omega 3 and cancer

There is a growing body of evidence which shows that omega-3 has a crucial role in cancer prevention and possibly even cure.

a) Inflammation:

As we mentioned above, one important role seems to be that of reducing cellular inflammation - the precursor to cancer. This may be in the gut bacteria profile, since certain bacteria are known to produce highly anti-inflammatory short-chain esters, and/or it may be through a direct effect on your cells.

Nobel prizes have been won in this field starting with Sir John Vane in 1982. Chemical substances have been found in the cell nuclear envelope, which can both affect cellular health, or bring on cellular death. These substances are hormones called eicosanoids. Like all hormones they are powerful chemicals, but unlike other hormones that are made in specific glands, these are made by every cell in your body. They only ’last’ from 1.5 to 6 or 7 seconds but are very powerful.

Open quotesSome eicosanoids are good, some are badClose quotes

Some eicosanoids are good, some are bad, and some that are good in low volumes, are bad in excess! There are over 120 different eicosanoids in total. One enzyme (called Cox-2) can encourage the production of the bad eicosanoids, rather than good ones. This enzyme is stimulated by substances such as steroids, insulin and cortisol (the stress hormone).

However long-chain omega-3 seems to inhibit the Cox-2 enzyme, cutting the production of bad eicosanoids and allowing the production of a greater proportion of ’good’ local hormones. Other natural compounds that can reduce Cox-2 include aspirin, aloe vera, ginger, garlic and curcumin.

Eicosanoids provide the last link in the chain that delivers messages from your brain to Iocalised cells in your breast or prostate. So, if your brain feels stressed this will be communicated (via cortisol for example) to the nuclear envelope in your breast cells and so your breast cells will be feel the effects of that stress too.

Also eicosanoids and Cox-2 are known to play a role in the pathways involved in malignancy.

Eicosanoids play a key role in cell signalling, primarily in oxidative pathways. Cox-2 plays a role in cell growth, and human tumour cells have high levels of Cox-2. Cox-2 also plays a key role in the synthesis of prostaglandins, which are found mainly in inflammatory and immune cells. While, prostaglandins and other ’bad’ eicosanoids bring about tissue responses such as wound repair and inflammation, but in excess they are implicated totally in many modern diseases e.g. atherosclerosis, rheumatic diseases, Alzheimer’s and cancers.

Open quotesWhy take drugs when one fundamental answer lies in increasing your long-term regular intake of omega-3?Close quotes

Cox-2 levels are high in 85 per cent of colon cancers (Dubois, Vanderbilt), and also in breast cancer. Work is underway on drugs, which block Cox-2. But why take drugs when the fundamental answer lies in increasing your long-term intake of omega-3?

The International Journal of Cancer in March 2002 reported on a study with 250 women with breast cancer and the findings that women who are cancer-free have much higher omega-3 fatty acid levels in their breast tissue! This research seems to be repeated all around the world every few months! By 2010 it was the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle who followed 35,000 women over a number of years and showed that those who supplemented regularly with fish oils had a third less breast cancers. In between those two studies there were similar findings from Perth to Harvard!

Harvard Medical School have shown similar findings with men and prostate cancer.

Possibly the most significant is the work with colorectal cancer where there is now a large, consistent body of evidence that shows omega-3 and fish oils can reduce inflammation and the size of polyps that are usually the precursor to colorectal or bowel cancer. In 2010 Leeds University Medical School led a study involving a number of cancer centres, where patients took a concentrate of omega-3 and hereditary high-risk targets for colorectal cancer saw large reductions in their development of polyps. Several studies show this polyp reduction to be the case even where the patient has already had a colorectal cancer.

b) Blood oxygenation

Dr Joanna Budwig was a physicist, biochemist and cancer expert. She was a leading expert on fat and oil metabolism and showed that consumption of bad fats could lead to fatty deposits in the heart and arteries blocking circulation, damaging heart action, inhibiting cell renewal and disrupting the normal flow of blood and lymph fluids. She also noted the loss of essential lipoproteins and phosphatides in the Western modern diet, and the link to increased levels of cancer.

Dr Budwig also showed that the blood of cancer patients especially those in the later stages of the disease was a greenish, yellow rather than a red, due to the lack of iron-carrying oxygen haemoglobin.

In her own research studies she showed that after treating the patients with flaxseed oil, daily for several months, the oxygen carrying capacity increased due to the increased presence of lipoproteins and phosphatides. Furthermore, in clinical trials she actually showed that tumour size decreased.

Go to: The Budwig Protocol

Flaxseed and lignin consumption shows up in the urine. And women with the highest levels in their urine have the lowest levels of breast cancer, a finding shown in studies from America to Japan. Secoisolariciresinol (SDG) is the natural lignin found in flaxseed. Research shows SDG has a direct effect on human oestrogen metabolism and also on its receptor sites. Oestrogen fuels the fire of many cancers. Research also shows SDG stops the action of oestrogen in stimulating cancer cells.

SDG also increases the production of Sex hormone binding globulin. This binds oestrogen, reduces the free oestrogen in the body, and reduces the stimulatory effect of oestrogen on cell division. In research where animals were given a high fat diet and cancer cells, flaxseed reduced the levels of cancer found when it was also added to the mix. Animals with a highly potent metastatic cancer line had their tumours reduce in size and metastasis almost stop when given high levels of flaxseed.

Two studies covered in Cancer Watch with animals given a cancer-inducing chemical for 13 weeks, showed less cancers and smaller tumours, if the animals also took SDG one study reported 46 per cent less cancers if pure SDG was used.

Post-menopausal women given flaxseed supplementation for seven weeks showed increased levels of properly metabolised oestrogen in their urine. Another test on women newly diagnosed with breast cancer showed that factors associated with tumour growth fell 33 per cent in the group taking flaxseed.

Fish, olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet

Fish consumption is an important part of the colorful Mediterranean Diet - the CANCERactive ’Rainbow Diet. Fish oil and extra virgin olive oil have a ’multiplier effect’, they each enhance the other’s benefits. You can find out more about all the health benefits of the colorful Mediterranean Diet in our Rainbow Research centre, no matter what your illness.

Go to: The Rainbow Diet Research Centre

With fish oils there are some points to watch for:

  • As we pointed out above, you must endeavour to ensure your fish oil, or the oily fish you consume, is toxin free.  Fish oils should be kept cool.

  • Also, you should be aware that an excess of certain fish oils can overdose your body with vitamin A, which can cause liver problems. Normally, 1000 mgs per day of cod liver oil, or 2000 mgs of un-enriched fish oils will be perfectly safe.

Your grandmother was right - fish oils are good for you - every day and consistently over time. But she probably didn’t know all about krill oil.

It could be that eating two tablespoons of flaxseed a day rather than consuming flaxseed oil, has another benefit - the fibre ’feeds’ your gut bacteria which thrive on fibre.

"If you are thinking of buying a fish oil or krill oil supplement, or flaxseed oil, you might like to look at the Natural Selection ’Products of Choice’. You can go to the Natural Selection site by clicking here."


*NB. There has been some research in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine  that fish oils may be dangerous to certain diabetics. At all times we suggest you take proper medical advice.

          At last - the definitive, research-based book on how to build a diet to help beat cancer. Click here to read about it.

Please be clear: At CANCERactive we do not consider the above compound to be a cure for cancer, despite what the research says or experts doing the research may claim. The above, is an article on the compound from published research and expert opinion in the public domain. At CANCERactive we do not believe that any single compound (drug, vitamin, whatever) is a cure for cancer. We believe that people can significantly increase their personal odds of survival by building an Integrated Programme of treatments. Equally, cancer prevention is best practiced through a width of measures.
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