DHA

  1. Nutrient increases survival time in breast cancer patients

    As a nutritionist, my focus is on prevention. I rarely talk about ways to treat a disease like cancer. But if you had to guess, you probably know what I think of chemotherapy. Without a doubt, it's one of the most brutal treatments in the so- called modern era.

    But there are things you can do to counteract its effects. In fact, a new study shows that one nutrient given alongside chemo can actually increase survival time in women with advanced breast cancer.

    Nutrient supercharges chemo

    French scientists recruited 25 women with breast cancer to take part in their study. Almost 70 percent of the women had advanced stages of cancer, with metastases to the liver and other sites.

    Each of the women received chemotherapy to treat their cancer. They also received 1.8 grams per day of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.

    Why DHA, you wonder? Well, scientists believe that DHA makes cancer tumours more "sensitive" to chemotherapy. In other words, it helps the chemo to kill more cancer cells.

    Women with most DHA double survival rates

    The women followed this regimen for two to six months. Then, they went on living their lives as best they could. Scientists checked back in on the women after 31 months. They found that--on average--most of the women survived 22 months. But the women with the most DHA in their blood survived for 34 months.

    Now, I know these statistics are tough to read. But for anyone with cancer, it's critically important. Especially when you consider that the average survival rate for a woman with stage IV breast cancer is normally just 14 months with chemo alone.

    But in this study, the women with the most DHA in their blood added 20 months to their life. In other words, they more than doubled their prognosis just by adding an omega-3 supplement to their regimen.

    Drugs versus Nutrients

    In this study, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA added up to 20 months to a woman's life with advanced breast cancer. Now, let's compare that to the blockbuster drug Avastin.

    Avastin is not a chemotherapy drug. It doesn't kill cancer cells directly. Instead, it cuts off the blood supply to the malignant tumors. In theory, it should boost the effects of chemotherapy (much like DHA, you could argue). But Avastin can cost up to $9,000 per month. Plus, side effects include GI perforation, stroke, and heart attack. And here's the real kicker...

    A recent study on colon cancer showed that Avastin--despite the hefty price tag – only extends a patient's life by an average of four months.

    But what really makes me sick is that the company that makes Avastin wants to see the drug used to treat other types of cancer. Just last month the company wrapped up a clinical trial involving Avastin and advanced stomach cancer patients.

    In this trial, scientists divided patients into two groups. One group received Avastin plus another chemo drug called Xeloda. The other group received a placebo plus Xeloda. Turns out the Avastin group didn't live any longer than the placebo group did.

    However, despite these shameful results, Avastin is still the go-to drug for most oncologists. It pulled in roughly $6 billion in 2009 alone.

    Support without side effects

    If you're diagnosed with cancer, make sure to weigh your options carefully. And if you decide to include chemotherapy in your treatment, you should definitely consider adding a fish oil supplement.

    The women in the study took 1.8 grams of DHA per day. To get that amount of DHA, you'll have to take nine of the large fish oil capsules. (There are usually about 200 mg of DHA in each fish oil capsule.)

    And just in case you're wondering, fish oil--even at these high levels--is completely non-toxic. You'll just have to contend with the fishy aftertaste. To avoid this, take the fish oil with meals. Also, make sure to take at least 1,200 IU of all-natural mixed tocopherol vitamin E to wipe out free radicals generated by the fish oil.

    Additional support beyond fish oil

    Without a doubt, cancer takes an enormous toll on your body. So, it's critically important to give your body all the nutritional support it needs in order for it to have the strength it needs to fight the cancer.

    First, to support your immune system, be sure to take a good multivitamin every day along with 2,000 mg ascorbic acid or ascorbate vitamin C three times a day. In addition, you may want to consider taking alpha lipoic acid, an antioxidant that's both fat- and water-soluble. Third, I'd also recommend milk thistle to help support your liver as it flushes away toxins from your body. And lastly, for anyone taking chemo, ginger tablets can really help ease nausea during treatment.

  2. New hope for the parents of preemies

    Omega-3 fatty acids spur brain development in preemie girls

    Premature babies need more fish oil in their diet. Sounds odd, I know. But according to a new study out last week, a key ingredient in fish oil might help prevent severe developmental delays, even mental retardation in premature babies.

    So why is fish oil so good for babies?

    Fish oil (found only in certain types, like salmon, tuna, sardines, and cod) is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids on earth. These natural wonders protect you against a long list of ailments, such as arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and heart disease. We also know that omega-3s play a role in brain development (hence, the new study with preemies).

    But here’s the kicker…

    Your body doesn’t make omega-3 fatty acids. You must get them from the foods you eat. Very few of us eat enough fish to get adequate omega-3s. Plus, heat tends to destroy most of the good stuff. The best solution for anyone is really to take a fish oil capsule daily.

    So how does a newborn baby get fish oil, you ask?

    A pregnant mother passes on many essential fatty acids to her unborn child in the final weeks before giving birth. But premature babies often miss out on this period of development. They’re born lacking adequate levels of omega-3s.

    Breast milk and infant formula do contain some omega-3s, but some scientists believe it doesn’t contain enough for a preemie whose brain is still developing. In fact, some believe low DHA (one crucial type of omega-3) directly contributes to an increased risk of delayed cognitive development in preemies.

    This got a small group of researchers in Australia to start thinking.

    What if we could get more DHA to preemies?

    That’s just what researchers at the Women & Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, Australia did.

    They docs came up with the brilliant idea of giving nursing mothers (and formula fed babies) much more DHA and see what happened. It certainly couldn’t hurt as DHA is something all mommies and babies need anyway.

    Researchers divided the preemies into four groups:

    1. Breastfed babies whose mothers received 3,000 mg per day of DHA in the form of tuna oil capsules.
    2. Breastfed babies whose mothers received a placebo
    3. Bottle-fed babies given DHA-enriched formula
    4. Bottle-fed babies given regular formula

    DHA supplementation (for groups #1 and #3) began at birth and continued until the preterm baby reached his or her expected due date.

    Then, at 18 months of age (based on their full-term due date), all the children were given a series of cognitive and behavioral tests. The babies’ alertness, curiosity, and ability to perform simple tasks were rated according to a standard mental development index.

    The results were quite surprising, especially for a skeptic like me.

    Good news for preemie girls…

    Developmental delays are all too common for premature babies. But getting enough DHA worked miracles during the course of this study.

    In fact, the girls in the DHA groups had a 57 percent decreased risk of suffering a “mild” delay in mental development. In addition, girls in the DHA group were 83 percent less likely to suffer “significant” mental delays, opposed to the girls in the standard group.

    Overall, the preemie girls given extra DHA scored nearly as well as full-term babies in all the cognitive testing.

    But what about preemie boys?

    Interestingly, DHA supplementation appears not to have any significant impact on preterm boys. Why not, I wondered?

    Well, according to Maria Makrides, the study’s lead author and a nutritionist, “The higher metabolic rate in boys may mean that they utilize much of the DHA they receive into energy. Also, boys may have a higher requirement of DHA.”

    Hopefully, Dr. Makrides will continue her studies with DHA and preemie boys. It would be interesting to see if larger doses of DHA will make any difference in helping to prevent cognitive delays in those little guys.

    Watch out for the free radicals

    As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that DHA (and other fatty acids) increase the amount of free radicals in your body. (Free radicals are harmful molecules that can cause cancer and disease in the body.)

    So it’s important to remember, if you begin to supplement with any omega-3 fatty acid (or omega-6s), make sure to add some vitamin E and selenium to your regimen. These antioxidants will help neutralize the free radicals.

    In the meantime, if you or anyone you know gives birth to a baby prematurely, make sure to take a close look at this study. It was published in the January 14, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Any good neonatologist should have seen it, but you never know.

     

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