While fish oil is purported to help with a host of medical issues, a new report recently published online in British Medical Journal may be of particular interest to women who are concerned about breast cancer.  It turns out that regular consumption of oily fish like salmon, sardines and tuna may help reduce risks for breast cancer due to high amounts of fatty acids known as n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs.

A team of researchers from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China reviewed 26 prior studies that looked at daily consumption of fish and PUFAs among women.  Eligible for inclusion in the review were 885,585 participants, from parts of Asia, Europe and the United States. Within the population of participants, there were 20,905 cases of breast cancer.

Of the 26 studies analyzed, 11 examined dietary consumption of fish, 17 looked at the intake of marine n-3 PUFAs in particular, and 12 researched consumption of alpha linolenic acid.  While actual fish are the best source of PUFAs, fish oil supplements were also regarded as a good dietary source of these important fatty acids for the review study.

Some former studies have shown differing results when it comes to PUFAs and protection against breast cancer.  Therefore, the research team chose to pool and reevaluate results from the 26 studies.  The analysis showed that marine PUFAs lowered risks for breast cancer.  In fact, women who consumed large amounts of PUFAs from fish experienced a 14 percent reduction in breast cancer risks.  Also, each increase of PUFAs of .1 gram per day resulted in a lowered risk for breast cancer of 5 percent.

In a statement to the press, review study leader, Duo Li, commented that this reduction in risks can be attained by eating one or two portions of oily fish each week.  He also said that the association between PUFAs and reduced risks for breast cancer can’t be fully explained at this point.  Li speculated that the PUFAs might help regulate the activities of molecules responsible for the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Another mechanism by which PUFAs might help protect against cancer is in their powerful anti-inflammatory properties.  It is believed that inflammation plays a large part in the development of many chronic diseases, including cancers.

Some experts who have reviewed the report caution individuals against focusing entirely on fish for the reduction of breast cancer risks.  It has been suggested that women whose diets contain a high amount of PUFAs might be more likely to have healthier habits in general than women whose consumption of PUFAs is low.

Also, people should be reminded that since fish contains a good deal of mercury, there is also some risk involved to eating a lot of oily fish. In this case, fish oil supplements might be a better bet, as mercury is removed from many brands of these supplements.

In addition to possibly lowering breast cancer risks, fish oil is also said to regulate abnormal heart rhythms, reduce risks for heart attack and death, improve cholesterol levels, and boost mental and cognitive health.  Because fish oil does interact with some prescription medications however, it is important to consult with a health care provider before beginning a supplementary regimen.