Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Lower Colorectal Cancer Risk


Research presented at Digestive Disease Week suggests that including omega-3 rich foods, or omega-3 supplements, into a healthy diet could offer additional protection against colorectal cancer alongside regular screening.

Consuming more omega-3 fatty acids may lower the risk of developing colorectal adenomas, particularly in the distal colon and among individuals under 50, according to study findings presented at Digestive Disease Week 2024, held May 18 to 21 in Washington, DC.1

Animal and plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids / Candice Bell -

Animal and plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids / Candice Bell -

Research has previously explored omega-3 supplements as adjunctive therapies in cancer treatment due to their anti-inflammatory properties that combat chronic inflammation associated with the development and progression of cancer.2 However, their specific role in colorectal cancer—globally the third most prevalent cancer1—remains unclear.

To fill this knowledge gap, researchers conducted a large-scale study investigating how diet impacts the formation of colorectal adenomas, or precancerous lesions, in the colon. The study took place across multiple institutions in South Korea, a country that has witnessed a dramatic increase in colorectal cancer cases over the last 2 decades.1

A total of 508 participants who were aged over 40 and elected to receive a colonoscopy were recruited across 10 institutions in South Korea and included in the final analysis. To glean dietary data, participants self-completed a Food Frequency Questionnaire. Responses were assessed by the Department of Food and Nutrition at Seoul National University using energy, age, sex, and BMI-adjusted models. Omega-3 intake analysis was categorized by dietary and supplementary sources.

Researchers assessed the number, type, and location of colorectal adenomas found in participants’ colonoscopy outcomes. Then, to assess the trend in adenoma incidence and dietary patterns, they divided participants into quartiles based on their omega-3 intake.

READ MORE: New OTC Colon Cancer Test Makes Screening More Accessible, Affordable

Overall, investigators found a link between higher omega-3 intake and a lower risk of detecting colorectal adenomas. Participants who consumed the most omega-3 (quartile 4) had the lowest odds (OR=0.53, 0.29-0.94) of developing colorectal adenomas compared to participants who consumed the least omega-3 (quartile 1). There was a consistent decrease in adenoma detection across all quartiles (P for trend, 0.03), and dietary sources of omega-3 were more strongly linked to a reduction in adenoma detection compared to supplementary sources.

Investigators noted that the decrease in adenoma detection was particularly significant in the distal colon (P for trend, 0.01), but was not significant in the proximal colon (P for trend, 0.08). Further, the decrease in adenoma detection was most pronounced in individuals younger than 50 years of age (OR for tertile 3=0.18, 0.06-0.52).

Colorectal cancer rates are on the rise across the globe, particularly in young people. To address the growing incidence of the condition, organizations like the Global Colon Cancer Association and the WHO advocate for equitable access to screenings, treatment, and care.3

Since colorectal cancer is highly treatable when caught in its early stages, early detection is key. Highlighting this importance—and addressing the growing incidence of colorectal cancer among younger populations—the US Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age for colonoscopies from 50 to 45 in May 2021.4

The current study adds valuable insights to ongoing public health efforts to combat colorectal cancer. While further research is needed, findings suggest that including omega-3 rich foods like fatty fish, or omega-3 dietary supplements, into a healthy diet could offer additional protection against colorectal cancer alongside regular screening.

Click here for more of our coverage from Digestive Disease Week 2024.

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1. Kim SH, Kang J, Lim Y, et al. Omega-3 intake linked to colorectal adenoma incidence: A prospective, multi-center Korean study. Presented at: Digestive Disease Week 2024; May 18-21, 2024; Washington DC.
2. Freitas RDS, Campos MM. Protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids in cancer-related complications. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):945. doi:10.3390/nu11050945
3. About GCCA. Website. Global Colon Cancer Association. Accessed May 21, 2024.
4. Colorectal cancer screening. Report. NIH. August 2023. Accessed May 21, 2024.
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