By Bo Martinsen, MD
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time to reflect on these statistics, provided by the American Cancer Society:
. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.
. More than 260,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2018.
. Over 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year.
These are the hard facts about breast cancer. But in the face of the numbers, there is hopeful research coming out. In particular, more studies are examining how omega-3 fatty acids and melatonin can impact the effectiveness of cancer treatment — as well as improve quality of life issues like pain, sleep and lack of energy.
How Omega-3s and Melatonin Work
Omega-3s and melatonin are powerful substances in their own right. Omega-3s, which make up an important part of the cell membrane, influence cell signaling and membrane fluidity, in addition to being involved in numerous metabolic functions. As for melatonin, it regulates our circadian cycle and is involved in nearly every aspect of cell metabolism, energy production and the body’s immune response.
While we rarely think of them together, omega-3 and melatonin act as natural partners in the cell. Studies show that they influence the bioavailability and functioning of each other. In addition, this duo appears to have a profound impact on cancer cells.
Inhibiting Tumor Growth
The research coming out about how omega-3s and melatonin affect cancer cells is compelling. In simplified models, they have been shown to reduce cancer risk.
Cell studies have also looked at how omega-3s and melatonin can impact tumor growth. For instance, research has demonstrated that some types of omega-6s, which are typically found in processed foods, stimulate tumor growth and metabolism. However, if supplemented in high enough doses, omega-3s compete against the omega-6 molecules for the same enzymes and replace them, thereby inhibiting tumor growth. Research has also shown that when melatonin is added to breast cancer cells, it too blocks the integration of omega-6s into the cell membrane and leads to a reduction in tumor cells.
These benefits have important implications for cancer treatment. Consider one study from Canada, which showed that adding high amounts of omega-3s to breast cancer cells resulted in a 62% increase in cancer cell death compared to control cells!
Impacting Quality of Life
Aside from the benefits demonstrated in cell studies, some researchers have also looked at how omega-3s and melatonin impact breast cancer symptoms and treatment side effects. Studies indicate that both nutrients have mood-lifting benefits. In addition, scientists from the University of Copenhagen demonstrated that melatonin could positively impact sleep efficiency and total sleep time amongst breast cancer patients.
Studies of other disease states have also described the ability of omega-3s and melatonin to reduce pain and chronic inflammation; so in theory, these benefits could extend to cancer patients as well.
What’s the Best Dose?
While no clinical studies have been performed to validate the optimal omega-3 dose for cancer patients, cell tests typically use the equivalent of 5000 to 10,000 mg of EPA/DHA in order to significantly change cell membrane structures and reduce cancer cell survival. That dose is the same as swallowing between 15 to 30 fish oil capsules daily. Similarly, for melatonin, the dose used in studies is much higher than what most people take – closer to 10 times the common dose used for alleviating ordinary jet lag.
Omega-3s and melatonin appear to have great potential for supporting breast cancer treatment and improving quality of life. In spite of their promise though, these two nutrients are rarely used together in cancer treatment, or in adequate doses — in part because many cancer patients do not tolerate swallowing handfuls of capsules or drinking fishy-tasting oils. This is where I feel particularly optimistic about fresh omega-3 oil, which when correctly produced, has no fishy taste or smell.
At Omega3 Innovations, we are now at the beginning stages of studying how melatonin dissolved directly into omega-3 oil impacts breast cancer cells. We are excited to learn more about how these powerful nutrients work together, particularly for cancer patients.
A longer version of this article was originally published on omega3innovations.com. For the full text and
About Dr. Bo Martinsen
Dr. Martinsen is an omega-3 specialist, innovator, and advocate for natural foods. As co-founder of Omega3 Innovations, he has created multiple patented technologies for medical devices designed to improve consumer compliance. He is also the creator of several medical food products that combine dose-
effective ingredients of omega-3 fish oil with soluble fibers and other nutrients. Before Omega3 Innovations, Dr. Martinsen practiced medicine in Norway, focusing on occupational and preventive medicine.
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