Marine defense

Surprise, surprise. Looks like the benefits of fish oil are in the news again! Well, the news we care about, at least.

Only this time, the headlines aren’t about prostate cancer. They’re about breast cancer. More specifically, a new study showed that higher intakes of marine omega-3 fatty acids are linked with a lower risk of this disease.

And since breast cancer will affect roughly one in eight American women, these are results worth paying close attention to… and then sharing with all of your friends.

A team of Chinese researchers found that marine omega-3s were linked to as much as a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Which, of course, underscores the critical importance of regular intake of these fatty acids.

In fact, breast cancer risk dropped by 5 percent with just 0.1 g of marine omega-3s per day–the amount you’d consume just by eating 1 or 2 portions of oily fish per week.

Not that an extra helping of salmon, tuna, or sardines is the only way to meet this quota–or even the best way.

One interesting aspect of this study was that it counted supplements as dietary sources of marine omega-3s, too. This is a crucial point, because it’s almost impossible to get the recommended daily dose of these fats simply by eating fish alone.

Another interesting observation (and one that I’ve been talking about for years): Researchers didn’t see a similarly significant association with alpha linolenic acid (ALA) intake.

ALA is a type of fatty acid from plant sources like nuts and vegetable oils. It’s the main vegetarian source of omega 3s. And for years, it has been my contention that ALA just doesn’t have the same health benefits as marine omega-3s. These findings drive that point home.

The main reason ALA doesn’t measure up to fish oil is because your body is limited in its ability to convert it to the more potent forms of omega-3, EPA and DHA. (These are the fatty acids that do all of the work–both of which come preformed in fish oil.)

As we age, we also lose the enzyme that’s responsible for this critical transformation… which only makes the conversion process more challenging.

That’s why–as I have told you time and again–you’ve got to look at the amount of EPA and DHA that you are getting before you buy a fish oil supplement.

I recommend 3,000 mg of EPA and DHA (and not just unspecified omega-3s) per day. These are the truly active ingredients in fish oil… so if you want to reap the benefits, don’t purchase a product that doesn’t deliver the goods.

Intake of fish and marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of breast cancer: meta-analysis of data from 21 independent prospective cohort studies. BMJ 2013;346:f3706.