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Omega-3 Fats Benefit Babies in Womb

Dietary fats called omega-3 fatty acids may start protecting a woman from breast cancer before she is even born. Unfortunately, most Americans eat far too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 fat, which tends to cancel out the benefits of omega-3s.

Most vegetable oils and products made from common vegetable oils are big sources of omega-6 fatty acids, while the omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil, green leafy vegetables, flax seeds, walnuts and cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.

A dramatic drop in mammary cancer risk among mice whose mothers ate diets rich in the omega-3s while pregnant and nursing was detected in a study presented at the 96th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research this month.

The researchers worked with mice bred to develop breast cancer. Female mice were fed diets high in either omega-6 fatty acids or omega-3 fatty acids, both during the gestation period and while nursing pups.

After the daughters were weaned, one group was placed on a high omega-6 fatty acid diet, while the other was fed predominantly omega-3 fatty acids.

All female pups exposed only to omega-6 fatty acids had mammary gland tumors by 6 months of age. But fewer than 60% of the female offspring nourished with omega-3 fatty acids either before birth or while nursing formed mammary tumors by the age of 8 months.

Those exposed to omega-3 fatty acids both before and after birth had a tumor incidence rate of just 13%.

It appears that diets high in omega-6 fatty acids raise maternal estrogen levels, which in turn are linked to an increased incidence of breast cancer among female offspring.

"Inadvertently, we may be setting up our daughters to develop breast cancer 50 years from now," the lead researcher said.

If you plan to become pregnant, are pregnant, or are nursing, omega-3 fatty acids are a valuable component of your diet. Visit our web page to find out more about fish oil.

Source: 96th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, April 20, 2005