Obesity is a well-documented epidemic crisis in the US. More than one-third of U.S. adults, ages 20 and older, are obese, according to the CDC. Even worse, the future health of children and adolescents, ages 2 to 19, is in peril: Some 48.5% of our young population is obese. This is heartbreaking.
However, fatty liver disease, which is not commonly discussed, is a rapidly growing health problem, as well. And although fatty liver is asymptomatic, it can result in inflammation of the liver, which can lead to liver failure. Researchers reviewed four human studies and concluded that increasing consumption of omega-3 fatty acids helps to improve liver health by altering the expression of liver genes to favor fat breakdown over fat storage.
Premenopausal women who eat more than one-half serving of red meat per day had double the risk of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer compared to women who eat less than three servings per week, according to the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study published in 2006 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. I believe the high saturated fat intake, as well as carcinogenic heterocyclocamines amines (chemical compounds referred to as HCAs) that are present in cooked and processed meats, account for these findings.
Harvard researchers updated their results of the Physicians Health Study and presented the data at the 2006 American Association for Cancer Research meeting. The study showed men who ate fish at least five times per week reduced their risk of developing colorectal cancer by 40 percent. The COX-2 inhibitory effect of fish oil was presumed to play a role. Also, soy isoflavones have been found to decrease the expression of genes in fat cells, which causes them to secrete molecules that promote inflammation and insulin resistance.
The Power of Polyunsaturated Fats
My new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, discusses in great detail the role that good fats and nutritious foods play in boosting health at the genetic level. Polyunsaturated fats, for instance, come in three forms: omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids. The omega-3s are found in cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, halibut, cod, and tuna, as well as vegetables like hempseed, walnut oils, and flaxseed. One of the main constituents of flaxseed is alpha-linolenic acid. A 1994 study published in the British Journal of Cancer showed that breast cancer patients with low levels of alpha-linolenic acid in breast tissue had an increased risk of developing metastatic disease.
Another study reported that women who developed breast cancer had significantly lower levels of EPA and DHA, the two omega-3 fatty acids in fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in decreasing the activity of the COX-2 enzyme, which promotes inflammation, and Omega-3s have been found to decrease estrogen stimulation of breast cell growth. Flaxseeds contain the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids of any vegetarian source.
Can an omega-3 fatty acid fish oil supplement increase tissue levels in humans? Can the supplements actually suppress the inflammatory COX-2 enzyme in humans? The answer, according to an April 2008 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is a resounding yes!
Researchers from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Institute of Food Research studied patients with Barrett’s esophagus (a condition caused by acid reflux in which the lining of the esophagus shows precancerous changes). Half of the patients were given 1500 mg of the omega-3 (EPA) supplement, and the other half were not. (Fish oil omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to decrease cell proliferation in patients with precancerous colonic polyps.) The results showed that the EPA-treated group had higher omega-3 fatty acid in their cells, and the COX-2 protein was significantly decreased in the tissues of the omega-3 supplemented group.
Conjugated Linoleic Acids
CLAs, unlike other omega-6 fatty acids, lower the risk of breast cancer by reducing estrogen as well as promoting lean muscle mass and lower body fat. Since fat cells produce estrogen, then more muscle translates into less fat, which lowers estrogenic initiation of cancer. In addition a study published in 2000 in Nutrition and Cancer showed that women with the highest CLA levels had significantly lower rates of breast cancer. CLAs are found so minimally in our diet that supplements are necessary to benefit from those fats.
CLA comes from a common omega-6 fatty acid called linolenic acid. So, if linolenic acid is so common, then why is CLA so rare? Because only ruminate animals, like cows, have the ability to convert linolenic acid to CLA. This is why it is found in small amounts in beef and dairy, but more abundantly in a clarified (and concentrated) butter, called ghee, which is used in Indian cooking—clearly they are onto something. CLA has been found to inhibit colon, prostate, and breast cancer cell growth; it also induces apoptosis (normal cell death) in these cells. This happens on an ecogenetic level, which explains why mice with breast cancer that spreads to the lung had regression of the metastasis in direct proportion to the amount of CLA they were fed.