Special diet found to aid chemotherapy


New studies published in the British Journal of Cancer suggest that, in mice at least, consumption of a diet enhanced with fish oil helped a chemotherapy drug to work more effectively against and also reduced intestinal damage caused by the drug.

The Health Science Center researchers, W. Elaine Hardman, Ph.D., Mary Pat Moyer, Ph.D., and Ivan Cameron, Ph.D., noted significantly increased tumor regression in mice receiving fish oil-enhanced diets. The findings are so promising, Dr. Hardman said, that the researchers have proposed a clinical trial in humans to the National Cancer Institute. The chemotherapy drug in the study was CPT-11 (irinotecan).

Dr. Hardman, research assistant professor in the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology, and Dr. Cameron, professor of cellular and structural biology, compared groups of mice on normal diets and fish oil-added diets. The fish oil-supplemented group of mice received a low dose of specially processed omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), equivalent to a human consumption of 10 to 12 grams of fish oil per day.

“While the chemotherapy stopped growth of the implanted breast cancers in mice eating a normal diet, in those mice eating a fish oil-added diet the tumors were significantly reduced and the intestinal damage caused by CPT-11 was ameliorated,” Dr. Hardman said.

Salmon, striped bass, swordfish and tuna are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and scientists previously have shown these fatty acids slow or prevent tumor growth. The new study is one of the first to show the impact of fish oil on the effectiveness of cancer chemotherapy, however. Walnuts, soybeans, canola oil and flaxseed are other less-concentrated sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Dr. Hardman emphasized that the tumor regression findings were based on use of specially processed and formulated omega-3 fatty acids, and cannot be extrapolated to consumption of currently available fish oil products.