BACKGROUND: Polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega-6 (omega-6) class, as found in corn and safflower oils, can act as precursors for intermediates involved in the growth of mammary tumors when fed to animals, whereas polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega-3 (omega-3) class, as found in fish oil, can inhibit these effects. The effects of dietary intervention on the ratios of these fatty acids in breast and other adipose tissues have not previously been prospectively studied.

PURPOSE: The present investigation was conducted to study the impact on the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid in plasma and in adipose tissue of the breast and buttocks when women with breast cancer consume a low-fat diet and fish oil supplements.

METHODS: Twenty-five women with high-risk localized breast cancer were enrolled in a dietary intervention program that required them to eat a low-fat diet and take a daily fish oil supplement throughout a 3-month period. Breast and gluteal fat biopsy specimens were obtained from each woman before and after dietary intervention. The fatty acid compositions of specimens of plasma, breast fat, and gluteal fat were determined by gas-liquid chromatography. Statistical analysis involved use of a two-sided paired t test.

RESULTS: After dietary intervention, a reduction in the level of total omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the plasma was observed (P<.0003); moreover, total omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids increased approximately three-fold (P<.0001) and the omega-3/omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids ratio increased approximately fourfold (i.e., mean values increased from 0.09 to 0.41; P = .0001). An increase in total omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in breast adipose tissue was observed following dietary intervention (P = .04); the omega-3/omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio increased from a mean value of 0.05 to 0.07 (P = .0001). An increase in total omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids was observed in gluteal adipose tissue following the intervention (P = .05); however, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (mean ratio values of 0.036-0.045; P = .06) was unchanged.

CONCLUSION: Short-term dietary intervention can lead to statistically significant increases in omega-3/omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid ratios in plasma and breast adipose tissue. Breast adipose tissue changed more rapidly than gluteal adipose tissue in response to the dietary modification tested in this study. Therefore, gluteal adipose tissue may not be a useful surrogate to study the effect of diet on breast adipose tissue.

Keywords: omega ratio