Epidemiological evidence has established that ingestion of long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (ω-3 PUFAs), abundant in fish oils, have profound effects on many human disorders and diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Here we briefly review the dietary recommendations and the food sources that are naturally enriched by these fatty acids. There are also a number of products including eggs, bread, and cereals available to supplement ω-3 fatty acid dietary intake. Some of these supplements are proposed to aid different pathological conditions. While the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids can no longer be doubted, their molecular mechanism of action remains elusive. Without question, the action of omega-3 fatty acids is complex and involves a number of integrated signaling pathways. This review focuses on one of the possible cellular mechanisms by which the ω-3 PUFAs, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), may function. Studies with cancer cells suggest that DHA induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis by activating protein phosphatases, leading to dephosphorylation of retinoblastoma protein (pRB). Protein phosphatases are also involved with the protein Bcl2, which regulates the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria, and eventually, activation of the apoptotic enzyme caspase 3.
Keywords: omega-3 fatty acids, cancer, dietary intake, food supplements