Category Archives: cancer

Omega-3 supplements may prevent skin cancer

The many benefits of omega-3 supplementation, from heart health to anti-inflammatory effects in conditions such as arthritis, are well-known. A new study conducted by researchers at Manchester University has now investigated the potential of omega-3 to protect against skin cancer (1).

Skin cancer is a growing concern in the UK, where rates of malignant melanoma have increased significantly over the last 30 years. In fact, according to Cancer Research UK, incidence rates of this type of cancer have increased more rapidly than any other type of cancer (2). And it is not just a concern for the elderly. In the UK, more than 700 young people between the ages of 17 and 34 are diagnosed with skin cancer every year.

The study is the first of its kind to test the protective benefits of omega-3 on human volunteers. The volunteers were given either a 4g dose of omega-3 or a placebo supplement. They were then exposed to the equivalent of either 8, 15 or 30 minutes of summer midday sun through the use of a light machine.

Fish is the richest food source of omega 3, with mackeral, trout and herring being the strongest source
Fish is the richest food source of omega 3, with mackerel, trout and herring having the highest source of omega 3

This study measured the amount of damage to the immune system, or ‘immunosuppression’ caused by sunlight. Sun exposure and sunburn can actually suppress the immune system, and repeated exposure can cause long term damage to the immune system, making your body more susceptible to skin cancer. The results of this study showed that immunosuppression was 50% lower in those who took the supplement compared to those who were given a placebo.

The beneficial effects were noted in those who were exposed to 8 and 15 minutes of sun, but were not seen in those who underwent 30 minutes of exposure.

Professor Lesley Rhodes at the University’s Photobiology Unit, said this was the first time a study such as this has been carried out on humans. “This study adds to the evidence that omega-3 is a potential nutrient to protect against skin cancer. Although the changes we found when someone took the oil were small, they suggest that a continuous low level of chemoprevention from taking omega-3 could reduce the risk of skin cancer over an individual’s lifetime.”

Other nutritional lines of defence from the sun’s UV rays include antioxidants, which ‘mop up’ some of the oxidative damage caused by the sun. For example, previous research suggests that skin damage from the sun can be reduced by taking 2000mg of Vitamin C alongside 1000IU Vitamin E (3). Citrus fruits are the most obvious choice for those wanting to increase their Vitamin C intake, although green peppers, broccoli and green leafy vegetables are similarly beneficial. Garnishing your meals with chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts or a drizzle of olive oil will also give Vitamin E levels a boost.

While omega-3 oils and antioxidants are no substitute for suncream, these studies suggests it may provide helpful support alongside our usual protective measures. Research into the nutrition’s protective benefits for the skin continues, and Professor Rhodes’ team are currently continuing their investigations with omega-3 at Salford Royal Hospital.


1. S. M. Pilkington et al. (2013) Randomized controlled trial of oral omega-3 PUFA in solar-simulated radiation-induced suppression of human cutaneous immune responses. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 97 (3): 646 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.112.049494

2. ‘Skin Cancer Incidence Statistics’ Cancer Research UK

3. Eberlain-Konig B et al (1998) Protective effect against sunburn of combined systemic ascorbic acid and d-alpha tocopherol. J Am Acad Dermatol 38:45-8


Folic acid linked with reduced risk of cancer

A new study has linked high intake of folate – including folic acid from supplements – with reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

The study, published last month in the journal Gastroenterology, investigated the link between folate intake and colorectal cancer in 99,523 participants.  These individuals provided information about their diet as part of the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort.

Asparagus is a great natural source of Folate. (5)

Lead researcher Victoria Stevens, PhD, of the American Cancer Society, said that “all forms and sources of folate were associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer.”

Folate, also known as Vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient required for the production and maintenance of new cells, including DNA synthesis and repair.  Because of this critical function, the relationship between folate intake and cancer development has been widely researched.

This most recent study, however, is the first to assess both natural folates (from food) and folic acid (the synthetic form, used in supplements).  It found that both forms of the vitamin were linked with decreased risk of cancer.  Low levels of folate have also been linked with conditions such as depression (2), breast cancer (3) and dementia (4).

Before taking a folic acid supplement it is recommended that you speak with your healthcare practitioner to check that it is right for you. When supplementing folic acid, it is often advisable to take it alongside, or as part of a Vitamin B Complex.  This is because the B Vitamins work together, so taking any one on its own can create a deficiency in the others.

Rich sources of folic acid include foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, enriched bread and fortified soy milk.  Taking a folic acid supplement, or a Vitamin B Complex supplement can help to ensure that you are getting enough of this essential nutrient.

Good sources of natural folate include:

  • asparagus
  • avocado
  • oranges
  • pulses, especially edamame beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • dark, leafy greens such as spinach, turnip greens and broccoli

Including these foods in your regular diet will help to boost your levels of folate.  As this B vitamin is water soluble, you should be careful to preserve this vitamin as you cook your food.  To preserve the folate content of your food, try steaming rather than boiling vegetables, or cook vegetables in soups and stews so that you don’t lose any vitamins leached into the water.

Written by Nadia Mason


1. Victoria L. Stevens, Marjorie L. McCullough, Juzhong Sun, Eric J. Jacobs, Peter T. Campbell, Susan M. Gapstur. (2011) High Levels of Folate From Supplements and Fortification Are Not Associated With Increased Risk of Colorectal Cancer. Gastroenterology 141(1): 98-105

2. Karakuła H, Opolska A, Kowal A, Domański M, Płotka A, Perzyński J. (2009). Does diet affect our mood? The significance of folic acid and homocysteine. Pol Merkur Lekarski 26 (152): 136–41.

3. Maruti SS, Ulrich CM and White E. (2009) Folate and one-carbon metabolism nutrients from supplements and diet in relation to breast cancer risk. Am J Clin Nutr 89:624–33.

4. Tettamanti, M. et al. (2007) Low folate and the Risk of Cognitive and Functional Deficits in the Very Old. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 25(6):502-8

5. Image courtesy of Paul.




The sunshine vitamin: Vitamin D and healthy immunity

New research supports the link between vitamin D and a healthy immune system.  The recent study of almost 7,000 adults in the UK has confirmed a link between Vitamin D levels and the risk of infection (1).

Vitamin D - The Sunshine Vitamin
New research supports the link between vitamin D and a healthy immune system. (5)

Natural sunshine can provide our bodies with up to 10,000iu vitamin D each day.  This ‘sunshine vitamin’ helps to boost the body’s defences by increasing levels of ‘anti-microbial peptides’.  Working like natural antibiotics, these peptides mount an attack against unwanted infections.

During the winter months, infections such as colds, flu and chest infections are common.  It is believed that this increased risk of infection is due in part to the lower levels of vitamin D that we receive in the colder months.

There is however increasing concern over vitamin D levels throughout the year. After all, most of us are careful to protect our skin from the sun during the summer months, a sensible measure to help prevent burning, premature skin ageing and to protect against skin cancer.
The study, conducted by researchers from University College London, looked at the relationship between Vitamin D levels and infection. Higher levels of vitamin D were linked with lower risk of infection.

For each 10nmol/l (4ng/ml) increase in vitamin D, the risk of infection dropped by 7 per cent.  The researchers discovered a further link between higher vitamin D levels and better lung function.

While this particular study was epidemiological in nature, it will be interesting to see how future controlled trials will further our understanding.  After all, vitamin D not only supports the immune system and bone health.  More recently, deficiency has been linked with cardiovascular disease, impaired glucose tolerance, poor muscle development and certain types of cancer (2).  The Department of Health now recommends that certain groups in the UK population should take daily vitamin D supplements (3).  These groups are:

• all children aged six months to five years old
• all pregnant and breastfeeding women
• all people aged 65 and over
• people who are not exposed to much sun, such as those who are confined indoors for long periods

BioCare BioMulsion D
BioCare’s BioMulsion D provides 2000iu vitamin D in just two drops

• people with darker skins such as people of African-Caribbean and South Asian origin

While vitamin D can be obtained in the diet through oily fish such as salmon and sardines, it is generally believed that supplementation is the most viable way of ensuring adequate intake.  A recent European policy document concludes that “only vitamin D supplements or vitamin D enriched food products are truly viable options for optimising the vitamin D status” (4).

Bolstering your vitamin D levels can be as simple as spending some time outdoors every day, while ensuring that you eat vitamin D enriched foods such as breakfast cereals, milk, margarine and soy drinks.  Those who would like to take an easily absorbed supplement might consider an emulsified liquid vitamin D such as Biocare’s BioMulsion D which provides 2000iu vitamin D in just two drops.


Written by Nadia Mason


1. Berry DJ, et al. Vitamin D status has a linear association with seasonal infections and lung function in British adults. British Journal of Nutrition. Available on CJO June 2011 doi:10.1017/S0007114511001991

2. Vieth R, Bischoff-Ferrari H, Boucher BJ, Dawson-Hughes B, Garland CF, Heaney RP, Holick MF, Hollis BW, Lamberg-Allardt C, McGrath JJ, Norman AW, Scragg R, Whiting SJ, Willett WC, Zittermann A. The urgent need to recommend an intake of vitamin D that is effective.  Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:649–50. 

3. NHS Choices. “Vitamins and Minerals – Vitamin D”.  Web article. Visited on 30th June 2011.

4. The Standing Committee of European Doctors. Vitamin D Nutritional Policy in Europe.  March 2010. Visited on 30th June 2011.

5. Image Ccourtesy of  digitalart.




Summer is on its way – Part 1: Protect your skin naturally

Summer is almost here, and although many of us are hoping for the promised British heat wave for some summer sun, in all probability we may have to seek sunnier destinations this year.  However, as much as we all love the sun shine and the health benefits it brings, there is a serious side.  According to Cancer Research UK, there are more than 75,000 skin cancer cases in the UK each year and about 80 per cent of which are caused by overexposure to the sun.  This means we just need to learn to look after our skin correctly in order to be able to enjoy the sunshine safely.

Protect yourself naturally from the sun's harmful rays
Cancer Research UK state that there are over 75,000 skin cancer cases every year (2)

The message is getting through though and the sun cream market is worth hundreds of millions of pounds every year, however according to a University of California study (1), the process by which standard sunscreens absorb UV rays can result in the release of harmful compounds which could possibly cause skin cancer.  Research suggested that chemical filters in popular sun creams can trigger the kind of free-radical damage that could pre-empt skin cancer and premature ageing.  There are also concerns about chemical preservatives used in sunscreens, and other ingredients, seeping through the top layer of the skin

The potential risks are making a growing number of people turn to a more ‘natural’ approach, choosing nutrition and natural sun care products over standard sun creams. But what are the benefits of natural sun creams and how do you know what to look for?

Natural sun creams work by reflecting UV radiation off the skin like a mirror.  They protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, without the risk of your body absorbing chemicals which are often present in many mainstream products.  Keep an eye open for the most popular natural certifications such as Soil Association, NaTrue, BDIH and EcoCert.  These certifications require a product to meet certain minimum organic and natural standards.  Natural sun care products often contain an array of natural extracts like Hemp and Coconut Oil, Shea Butter, Carrot Seed Oil and Aloe Vera, all of which have natural sun protection.  Natural antioxidants from extracts of Acai, Grape Seed and Green Tea help to protect skin from sunburn and reduce harmful free radical damage and many incorporate gentle, natural botanicals to soothe and moisturise.  Natural materials also help with cell repair – and don’t interfere with the body’s absorption of vitamin D.  Most natural sun care products are suitable for children although there are many that are specifically designed for children’s sensitive skin.

Brands such as Weleda, Green People and Lavera offer a wide range of natural sun protection products for all the family including sun creams and soothing after sun products…

(1)  Hanson, KM; Gratton, E; Bardeen, CJ (2006). “Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin”. Free Radical Biology and Medicine 11 (8): 1205.
(2)  Image courtesy of nuttakit

Written by Mike Pye


Following cancer prevention guidelines may lower risk of death from all causes

Cancer prevention is a topic that I have written about previously in my blog posts.  There is evidence to suggest that eating a healthful diet and exercising regularly may help to reduce the risk of getting cancer.  A newly published study (1) has found that “Adherence to cancer prevention guidelines for obesity, diet, physical activity and alcohol consumption is associated with lower risk of death from cancer, CVD [cardiovascular disease] and all-causes in non-smokers”.  The authors of the study note that their results could have a very real impact on health, they say “Beyond tobacco avoidance, following other cancer prevention guidelines may substantially lower risk of premature mortality in older adults”.

A Healthy Diet and weight can help prevent cancer
A Healthy Diet and Weight Management can help in the fight against cancer (4)

The results are interesting because, as noted in the study, few previous research papers have evaluated the combined impact of following recommended lifestyle behaviours on cancer, CVD (cardiovascular disease/heart disease) and all-cause mortality, and most have included tobacco avoidance.  This new study was conducted in non-smoking individuals. 
The study(1) included over 100,000 non-smoking men and women who were part of the Cancer Prevention Study (CPS)-II Nutrition Cohort, they completed specialised diet and lifestyle questionnaires in 1992 and 1993.  Each person was given a score between 0 and 8 points which was calculated to show how strongly they adhered to the cancer prevention guidelines on body mass index, physical activity, diet and alcohol consumption.   8 points was the top score and represented optimal adherence.  The men and women were then followed for 14 years.  Over this time 10,369 men and 6,613 women died.   After analysing the results the researchers found that death from all causes was lower for men and women who had high scores (of 7 or 8 ) when compared to those with low scores (of 0, 1 or 2).  Death from cardiovascular disease and cancer was also higher in those individuals with low scores compared to those with high scores.  Specifically, after 14 years, men and women with high compliance scores (7, 8 ) had a 42% lower risk of death compared to those with low scores (0-2). Risk of cardiovascular disease death were 48% lower among men and 58% lower among women, while the risk of cancer death was 30% lower in men and 24% lower in women (1,2). 
The research only shows association between following cancer prevention guidelines and risk of death from various causes and further research would be needed before any firm conclusions could be drawn but the results are interesting and significant especially since they show that these guidelines are useful and go beyond tobacco avoidance.
Previously I have mentioned the World Cancer Research Fund a charity committed to cancer prevention. They have a variety of different cancer prevention recommendations which you can read about on their website.  Some of these recommendations include:

Exercise is one of the WCRF recommendations for cancer prevention
Exercise & being as lean as possible without being underweight are two of the WCRF recommendations for cancer prevention (5)

*Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
*Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
*Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (foods high in fats and/or added sugars and/or low in fibre) and avoid sugary drinks.
*Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, and pulses such as beans.
*Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
*If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
*Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
These cancer prevention recommendations are based on an expert report (3) published in 2007, which looked at thousands of published research studies. A balanced diet based on unprocessed meats and fish, unrefined/unprocessed carbohydrates and rich in vegetables and fruits is a good starting point for anyone wanting to eat healthfully.
(1) McCullough ML et al.  2011.  Following cancer prevention guidelines reduces risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev.  Apr 5. [Epub ahead of print]
(2)Press Release.  American Cancer Society (2011, May 3). Following cancer prevention guidelines lowers risk of death from cancer, heart disease, all causes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 4, 2011, from¬ /releases/2011/04/110414131654.htm
(3) WCRF/AICR. 2007. Food, nutrition, physical activity, and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007.
(4) Image courtesy of zirconicusso
(5) Image courtesy of Ambro

Written by Ani Richardson


Good cholesterol linked to reduced risk of bowel cancer

New evidence (1) suggests that high levels of HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol, known as ‘good’ cholesterol, are associated with a reduced risk of bowel cancer.  The study aimed to examine the association of different blood components such as : total cholesterol, high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), low density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides (blood fats) as well as other markers and the incidence of colorectal cancer.

Eating unrefined foods may help to raise levels of HDL Cholesterol
Eating whole and unrefined foods may help to raise levels of HDL (Good) Cholesterol

The study was conducted as part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), which is a cohort of over than 520 000 participants from 10 western European countries including the UK.  Over 1200 people who developed bowel and rectal cancers (779 bowel and 459 rectal cancer) were matched with an equal number of participants (control participants) of the same age, gender and nationality.  Blood samples were taken and specialised dietary questionnaires were also collected from both groups.

The results showed(1) that those participants who had the highest levels of HDL cholesterol had the lowest risk of developing bowel cancer.  Further analysis showed that each rise of 16.6 mg/dl in HDL cholesterol reduced the risk of bowel cancer by 22% after taking account of diet, lifestyle, and weight and other factors.  However, it was found that HDL and apoA levels  had no impact on the risk of rectal cancer.  The association between high HDL and lowered risk of bowel cancer remained irrespective of other indicators of inflammation, insulin resistance, and oxygen free radicals levels, all of which are associated with the development of cancer (1,2).

In their discussion the authors of the study explained that low HDL levels have been linked to higher levels of proteins involved in inflammation, while higher levels of proteins that dampen down the inflammatory response have also been linked to high HDL levels.  The pro inflammatory proteins boost cell growth and proliferation while curbing cell death, so HDL may alter the inflammatory process in some way, they suggest.  They conclude that “These findings show that high concentrations of serum HDL are associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer. The mechanism behind this association needs further elucidation”.  Further studies are certainly needed before any firm conclusions can be made.

Fish Oils are rich in Omega 3
Fish Oils are rich in Omega 3, which may help to keep blood fat levels within healthy ranges

I have previously written about cholesterol levels and the way that diet can impact both HDL (good) cholesterol as well as LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol.  Exercising and eating a healthy balanced diet rich in unprocessed, unrefined foods, vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts/seeds, pulses/beans, unprocessed meats and fish, especially oily fish which is rich in omega 3 fats, is a good way to begin to provide the body with optimal nutrition which can help to keep blood fat levels within healthy ranges.

(1)Van Duijnhoven  FJBet al.   2011.  Blood lipid and lipoprotein concentrations and colorectal cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.  Gut.  E-Pub.   7 March 2011 DOI: 10.1136/gut.2010.225011

(2)Press Release.  BMJ-British Medical Journal (2011, March 7). High levels of ‘good’ cholesterol may cut bowel cancer risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 8, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/03/110307184638.htm

Written by Ani Richardson


Research reveals that high vitamin D intakes are probably needed to reduce cancer risk

Vitamin D has previously been linked to cancer risk.  Studies have indicated that intakes of vitamin D in the range of 1,100 to 4,000 IU daily (and blood serum vitamin D concentrations from 60-80 ng/ml) may be needed to reduce cancer, and other disease, risk.  Now a new study (1) has reported that higher intakes of vitamin D are needed to reach blood levels that can prevent or markedly cut the incidence of breast cancer and several other major diseases than had been originally thought.

Lead author of the study, professor Cedric Garland, said in a press release (2)We found that daily intakes of vitamin D by adults in the range of 4000-8000 IU are needed to maintain blood levels of vitamin D metabolites in the range needed to reduce by about half the risk of several diseases – breast cancer, colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes,” “I was surprised to find that the intakes required to maintain vitamin D status for disease prevention were so high – much higher than the minimal intake of vitamin D of 400 IU/day that was needed to defeat rickets in the 20th century.

These supplemental levels of vitamin D are higher than past, traditional intakes.  However  these levels are largely thought to be within a range which was deemed safe for daily use in a December 2010 report from the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine USA (2).

Another author of the study, Robert Heany, a distinguished biomedical scientist who has studied vitamin D, for several decades said (2)This result was what our dose-response studies predicted, but it took a study such as this, of people leading their everyday lives, to confirm it.”

The study (1) was a community based study which reported on over 3,500 individuals who were taking vitamin D supplements in the dosage range of 1000-10,000 IU per day.  Blood samples were taken in order to determine the level of vitamin D in the body (25-vitamin D was measured, this is the form of vitamin D in which almost all vitamin D circulates in the blood).  Supplements of 10,000 IU daily or less were not found to produce blood vitamin D levels above the lower-bound of the zone of potential toxicity of 200 ng/ml.  In this particular study the supplemental dose to ensure that 97.5% of this population achieved a blood serum vitamin D level of at least 40ng/ml was 9,600 IU daily.  The authors conclude that “Universal intake of up to 40,000 IU vitamin D per day is unlikely to result in vitamin D toxicity”. 

Before I continue I would like to stress that it is important to see a medical doctor prior to starting vitamin D supplements, especially a supplement that provides more than 1000-2000 IU daily.

Cedric Garland said (2)Most scientists who are actively working with vitamin D now believe that 40 to 60 ng/ml is the appropriate target concentration of 25-vitamin D in the blood for preventing the major vitamin D-deficiency related diseases, and have joined in a letter on this topic,”  Unfortunately most people in the UK do not reach these blood levels. “Unfortunately, according a recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, only 10 percent of the US population has levels in this range, mainly people who work outdoors.”

Last year a National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine committee, USA, identified supplements of vitamin D up to  4000 IU daily as being safe for everyday use by adults and children nine years and older, with intakes in the range of 1000-3000 IU/day for infants and children through age eight years old.  Cedric Garland commented that (2)Now that the results of this study are in, it will become common for almost every adult to take 4000 IU/day,” “This is comfortably under the 10,000 IU/day that the IOM Committee Report considers as the lower limit of risk, and the benefits are substantial.”  Robert Heaney added (2)Now is the time for virtually everyone to take more vitamin D to help prevent some major types of cancer, several other serious illnesses, and fractures,

Please read my previous posts on Vitamin D for more information  If you are considering a vitamin D supplement it may be wise to visit your medical doctor first, they can do a simple blood test to check your vitamin D levels and from there they can decide which dose of vitamin D might be helpful.

(1)Garland CF et al.  2011.  Vitamin D Supplement Doses and Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D in the Range Associated with Cancer Prevention.  Anticancer Research.  31: 607-612

(2)Press Release.  University of California – San Diego (2011, February 22). Markedly higher vitamin D intake needed to reduce cancer risk, researchers say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 23, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/02/110222140546.htm


Written by Ani Kowal


Study finds fibre intake may be associated with a reduced risk of death from various causes

Previous studies have suggested that diets high in fibre may lower the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some cancers.   Fibre can assist with bowel movements, reduce blood cholesterol levels, improve blood glucose levels, lower blood pressure, promote weight loss and reduce inflammation and bind to potential cancer-causing agents in the gut to increase the likelihood they will be excreted by the body.  A newly published study (1) now suggests that fibre may be associated with a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, infectious and respiratory diseases, as well as a reduced risk of death from any condition.

The researchers involved in the study (1) examined dietary fibre intake in relation to total mortality and death from specific causes in a large group of individuals.  Data was analysed from 219,123 men and 168,999 women.  Study participants completed a detailed food frequency questionnaire at the start of the study in 1995 and 1996.  Over a period of around 9 years follow up, causes of death were determined by using records and registries.  Fibre intake in the group of individuals ranged from around 13g – 29g per day for men and 11g – 26g per day for women.  Over the course of the study, 20,126 men and 11,330 women died.

When the researchers analysed the data they found that fibre intake was associated with a significantly lowered risk of total death in both men and women (1): the one-fifth of men and women consuming the most fibre (29.4 grams per day for men and 25.8 grams for women) were 22% less likely to die from any cause than those consuming the least (12.6 grams per day for men and 10.8 grams for women).  Dietary fibre intake was also associated with a lowered risk of death from cardiovascular, infectious, and respiratory diseases by 24%-56% in men and by 34%-59% in women.  In addition to this, in men a high intake of fibre was associated with a lowered risk of death from cancer.

The authors of the study conclude that “Dietary fibre may reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular, infectious, and respiratory diseases. Making fibre-rich food choices more often may provide significant health benefits

There are many ways that having a diet high in fibre could be helping to reduce the risk of death from various causes.  In a comment on the study two authors note (3) that “dietary fibre is important in digestion, and its relationship with chronic disease has been a topic of great interest for many years. Fibre consists of undigestible plant carbohydrates in both soluble and insoluble forms.  Soluble fibre (eg, fruit pectin) dissolves in water to form a gel, whereas insoluble fibre (eg, cellulose from wheat bran) does not. Both increase stomach distension, which increases satiety, and slow nutrient absorption” “The main function of insoluble fibre is to increase fecal bulk.  Because these changes are thought to protect against the development of chronic diseases, a fibre-rich diet similar to that of early man is probably healthier than current Western-type diets

Previously I have mentioned how, in the UK, we tend to fall short of the daily recommendations for fibre provision.  Many of us reach only 12g/day, the recommendation is for at least 18g/day with many health professionals recommending around 25g/day.  Please read my other posts relating to fibre.  Eating a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts/seeds and low in processed foods is a good way to ensure high daily fibre intakes.  Fruits, vegetables and wholegrains also provide the body with vitamins, minerals and flavonoids (bioactive plant compounds) which are needed for optimal body function and health.

There are also many fibre supplements available but these lack the other nutritional benefits provided from plant foods (e.g. vitamins and minerals) that plant foods contain and supplements can never be viewed as an alternative to a healthy diet.  One supplement that may be worth considering is FOS, fructo-oligosaccharides, since this provides a form of fibre but is also a prebiotic and hence has other health benefits.  A prebiotic is a food that stimulates the growth of the beneficial bacteria already present in the colon.  Just 5g daily could be beneficial for a number of reasons as well as boosting fibre intakes.  Always check with a medical doctor prior to beginning a new supplement regimen.

(1)Park Y et al.  2011.  Dietary Fibre Intake and Mortality in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.  Arch Intern Med.  Published online February 14, 2011. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.18

(2)Press Release.  JAMA and Archives Journals (2011, February 14). Fibre intake associated with reduced risk of death. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 15, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/02/110214162928.htm

(3) de Koning L and Hu F B.  2011.  Do the Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre Extend Beyond Cardiovascular Disease?: Comment on “Dietary Fibre Intake and Mortality in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study” .  Arch Intern Med. 2011;0(2011):2011191-2.

Written by Ani Kowal


Fish oil supplements associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer

A recent study (1) has found that women who take fish oil supplements seem to have a reduced risk of developing breast cancer 

The VITAL (VITamins And Lifestyle) study (1) involved a cohort of over 35,000 women aged 50-76 years old.  They completed a comprehensive 24-page questionnaire at the start of the study (2000), as part of this questionnaire they were asked about their recency (current versus past), frequency (days/week), and duration (years) of specialty supplement use.  The women were followed for around 7 years.  In that time over 850 cases of invasive breast cancers were noted and the researchers of the study performed analysis on the data to see if there was any association between supplement use and breast cancer risk.

The results showed that current use of fish oil was associated with reduced risk of breast cancer.  Ten-year average use of fish oil was also suggestive of reduced risk (though the results were not statistically significant). These results held for ductal but not lobular cancers (1). Specifically, those women who said they regularly used fish oil supplements were about one-third less likely than non-users to develop breast cancer over the next six years.  The lower risk was seen even when a number of known and suspected risk factors for breast cancer were taken into account e.g. including older age, obesity, heavy drinking and sedentary lifestyle.  The other specialty supplements which were studied were not associated with breast cancer risk.  Specifically, use of supplements sometimes taken for menopausal symptoms (black cohosh, dong quai, soy, or St. John’s wort) were not associated with risk (1).

The authors conclude that (1) Fish oil may be inversely associated with breast cancer risk” but they stress that “Fish oil is a potential candidate for chemoprevention studies. Until that time, it is not recommended for individual use for breast cancer prevention


The study was just an observational association study, it does not prove that fish oil supplements prevent against breast cancer.  As the authors mention, further studies and specific trials would be necessary before any conclusion drawn or recommendations made.  In a press release (2) one of the study authors states  “Without confirming studies specifically addressing this,” “we should not draw any conclusions about a causal relationship.”  Currently there is a trial underway in America which is looking at whether fish oil and vitamin D supplements affect the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke in older men and women.  The results won’t be known for a number of years yet.

Fish oil contains long chain omega 3 fatty acids which are important to health for a number of reasons and also linked to the prevention of various diseases such as heart disease.  Eating oily fish such as trout, salmon, mackerel and sardines at least twice weekly is a good way of ensuring adequate amounts of these essential fats in the diet.  It is plausible that fish oil could to linked to reduced breast cancer risk via its anti-inflammatory effects in the body, but further research would be necessary to find out any specific preventative actions in the body


(1)Brasky TM et al.  2010.  Specialty Supplements and Breast Cancer Risk in the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) Cohort.  Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; 19(7); 1696–708.  doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-10-0318

(2)Press release.  American Association for Cancer Research (2010, July 8). Fish oil may reduce risk of breast cancer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 9, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/07/100708071349.htm

Written by Ani Kowal


Omega 3 fish oils linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer

The long chain Omega 3 fatty acids acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) have been in the news again.  This time a study (1) has linked these healthy fats to a reduced risk of colon cancer.  Long chain omega 3 fats are found in oily fish such as trout, salmon, mackerel and sardines and have been linked to a reduced risk of a number of conditions.

Previously I wrote about diet and lifestyle changes that could possibly be linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer.  This study (1) looked specifically at omega 3 fatty acids and colon cancer.   There have been a few very small animal and human studies that suggest fish oil supplementation may fight inflammation in the colon but this study looked at the relationship between dietary fatty acid intake and bowel cancer risk in over 1,500 white individuals (including 716 colon cancer patients and 787 healthy control individuals) and 369 African Americans (213 had colon cancer and 156 were control individuals).  The results of the study (1) showed that among the white participants those who had the highest omega 3 consumption had a significantly reduced risk of colon cancer compared to those who consumed the least.  The researchers looked at EPA and DHA and found that risk of colon cancer fell with increasing intake.  When looking at white and African American subjects together they found there was a reduced risk of colon cancer with increasing omega 3 intake but separate analysis of the African American subjects in isolation did not find a similar relationship – this is interesting but no conclusion can be drawn until further studies are undertaken.

The researchers (1) also found that people who had an imbalance between omega-6:omega-3 , with more omega 6 in relation to omega 3, were also more likely to have colon cancer – however, omega 6 intake itself did not affect the risk.  I have written about the importance of the omega6:omega 3 ration previously here

The authors conclude (1)Study results support the hypothesis that long-chain omega-3 PUFAs have beneficial effects in colorectal carcinogenesis. Whether or not the possible benefit of long-chain omega-3 PUFAs varies by race warrants further evaluation”.

In another recent study (2) an omega 3 fatty acid supplement has been shown to be useful to people at risk of developing an inherited form of bowel cancer.  The study took part in the UK and involved individuals diagnosed with FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis) an inherited condition which may be responsible for around one in 100 bowel cancer cases.  The, EPA, omega-3 fatty acid preparation seemed to significantly reduce the size and number of pre-cancerous growths (polyps) over the six month trial period. 

FAP causes polyps to form in the lining of the large bowel. Patients usually undergo bowel surgery but remain at risk of developing polyps and cancer, regular endoscopic checks are required by the patients.  The research team are now interested to see if the EPA supplement could help to prevent the non-hereditary form of bowel cancer which is the third most common cancer in the UK.

In a press release (3) the lead study researcher, Professor Hull, said that the EPA supplement could be useful to individuals with FAP:  “A safe and effective drug therapy may reduce the number of invasive check-up procedures, which can be unpleasant and always involve a small amount of risk”.  “There is definitely a clinical need for an effective, preventative therapy that is both safe and well tolerated as the existing drug therapy for FAP can be associated with an increased risk of heart attack in older individuals,” The researchers note (2) that the effects of the EPA supplement were similar to those produced by the medication celecoxib (a selective cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitor), which is used to help curb the growth of new and existing polyps in patients with FAP.  The use of celecoxib has been associated with harmful cardiovascular side effects in older patients (3)

The study (2) was small but well designed, it involved 55 patients with FAP and lasted 6 months.  28 of the individuals were given 2g of a highly purified EPA supplement daily.  The patients given the supplement had a significant reduction in the number and size of polyps whereas the placebo group who were not given EPA showed and increase in polyp size and number over the same period.  In the press release (3) professor Hull mentioned more about the EPA preparation used: “The particular preparation of EPA that we used delivers approximately four times as much beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acid per day as is derived from eating two to three portions of fish a week. The supplement is also designed to be released into the small intestine, minimising nausea and halitosis often associated with taking over-the-counter fish oil supplements

There is now a need for larger studies to see if the high dose, purified preparation is safe and effective for all individuals.  As mentioned in past posts omega 3 fats are very important to health and sadly many people in the UK do have low levels since their consumption of oily fish is often low.  Including a minimum of 2 portions weekly is a good idea for health.  Supplements containing EPA and DHA can also be considered for those who do not eat fish.  Vegetarians and vegans can get some of the shorter chain omega 3 fatty acids (alpha linolenic acid) from flaxseeds/linseeds and walnuts but the body finds it very hard to bioconvert these into the longer chain EPA and DHA fats, which seem crucial for health.  EPA and DHA supplements made from alage are now available for vegetarians and vegans and may be worth considering.

(1) Kim S et al.  2010.  Intake of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Distal Large Bowel Cancer Risk in Whites and African Americans. Am J Epidemiol. Apr 14. [Epub ahead of print]

(2) West NJ et al.  2010.  Eicosapentaenoic acid reduces rectal polyp number and size in familial adenomatous polyposis. Gut. 2010 Mar 26. [Epub ahead of print]

(3)Press release.  BMJ-British Medical Journal (2010, March 21). Omega 3 curbs precancerous growths in those prone to bowel cancer, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 27, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/03/100317212648.htm

Written by Ani Kowal