DHA May Be New Treatment for Cancer


DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid found in cold water fatty fish and fish oil supplements, may be the next treatment for cancer. A new study shows that DHA and its derivatives have the ability to kill neuroblastoma cancer cells.

DHA is essential for the proper functioning of the adult brain and for the development of the nervous system and vision during the first six months of life. Along with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the other main omega-3 fatty acid in cold water fatty fish, DHA helps lower the risk of heart disease. Although humans naturally produce small amounts of DHA, people must get the DHA they need from diet or supplements. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that most people in the Western world do not get an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids from their diet.

Researchers with the new study, which was conducted at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, administered DHA to neuroblastoma cells from the nervous system and analyzed them for byproducts as the DHA broke down. They then examined the impact of both DHA and its derivatives on the growth of cancer cells. They discovered that DHA killed the cancer cells, and that the derivatives were even more effective at destroying cancer.


Helena Gleissman, PhD, co-author of the study from the Childhood Cancer Research Unit of the Karolinska Institutet, notes that “Ultimately, we hope that we can be able to cure more children with neuroblastoma, and possibly other cancers,” including medulloblastoma, colon, breast, and prostate cancers, among others.

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that often begins in early childhood, according to the National Institutes of Health. This form of cancer develops in the nerve tissues and usually begins in the adrenal glands, although it can also start in the neck, chest, or spinal cord. It can even begin before a child is born. Physicians usually do not find the cancer until it has spread to other parts of the body.

Results of the new study are “good news for those looking to stop cancer,” says Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. Until now, researchers have known that DHA has the ability to prevent and treat various diseases. “Now we see that DHA or one of its byproducts might serve as the starting point for a new class of anti-cancer drugs,” notes Weissman.

Gleissman H et al. The FASEB Journal 2010; 24(3)
National Institutes of Health
University of Maryland Medical Center