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Building on basics

Lipid profiler

Studies suggest that dietary fat plays a role in some cancers. But while some fats promote tumor growth, other fats actually inhibit it, according to Kent Erickson, chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy at UC Davis.

"You can't lump all fats together," says Erickson. "There are big differences between saturated and unsaturated fats."

It each case, the mechanisms for tumor growth or reduction are not well-understood. Erickson has been on a quest to unlock the riddle of how dietary fats regulate tumor growth for over a decade. In the 1980s, after the first epidemiological studies linked a high-fat diet with an increased incidence of some cancers, he studied two polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3.

"Fatty acids such as omega-6 oils, which you find in most vegetable oils, seem to promote tumor growth in animals, but omega-3 oils have the opposite action,," he says.

Indeed, health magazines a few years back bulged with articles about how omega-3 oils could help cardiovascular health, including lowering total serum cholesterol, and how they could inhibit tumor growth to boot.


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