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Coping with Treatment: Omega 3, Omega 6 and Breast Cancer

POSTED BY Pink Ribbon Cooking / July 12, 2014

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Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are fats that are present in the foods we eat, and Omega 3 fats in particular might be beneficial in helping to reduce the fatigue, insomnia, cognitive difficulties, and joint pain commonly experienced by women being treated for breast cancer, particularly women with higher levels of inflammation.

Omega 3 fats come in two main types: plant-based and marine-based. Plant-based Omega 3 fats, commonly found in chia seeds and flaxseed, have high levels of alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA). The health benefits of ALA are fairly minimal when compared to the essential fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acidomega (EPA) found in fish like mackerel, sardines, salmon, herring and swordfish; the rule of thumb being the fattier the fish, the higher amount of Omega 3 it has.

Fish is a Good Source for Omega 3 Fatty AcidKale is an Excellent Plant Source of Omega 3

Omega 6 fats do not have the purported health benefits of their Omega 3 counterparts. In fact, they have been linked to an increase in certain diseases. Foods high in Omega 6 include vegetable oil, soybean oil, eggs, poultry and nuts. 

Most research states the ratio of Omega 6:Omega 3 in your diet should be 2:1 to 4:1. Unfortunately, the American diet is typically nowhere near to this ratio. 

“Low to moderate intake of Omega 6's should not present problems,” says Dr. Luke Peppone, assistant professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y. “It is only when the ratio of Omega 6:Omega 3 is out of skew – 10:1 to 30:1 – when we may see an increased risk.”

In general, opinions vary on taking supplements, but Peppone believes that adding an Omega 3 supplement or eating fatty fish in moderation is a good way to improve your Omega 6:Omega 3 levels. But, he is also quick to point out that eating a lot of fish can lead to troubles with other things such as Mercury.  

Steelhead Trout is low in mercurcy and a "Best Choice" by Seasfood Watch®

The good supplement brands, Peppone says, filter out these toxic metals and often have very low levels.

While much of the current research is divided as to the role of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats as they relate to breast cancer, Peppone says it’s not simply a case of Omega 3 being good and Omega 6 being bad, but rather it comes down to balance

“Those with a good ratio have low levels of inflammation, while those with a poor ratio have higher levels of inflammation,” Peppone says. “This inflammation is linked to increases in cancer, specifically breast cancer. High levels of inflammation are also bad for women being treated for breast cancer associated with high levels of fatigue, sleep problems, cognitive problems, joint pain and bone loss.”

John Lahtinen is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor who has written about policy, personalities, trends and new technology in the healthcare arena.

Follow him on Twitter @JohnLahtinen.