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Fish Oil Lowers Risk of Suicide and Cancer


Fish oil can help boost mood, reduce violence and aggression in some individuals, and combat major depression, much research shows. Now Joseph Hibbeln and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health suggest fish oil may help prevent suicide.

They found that blood levels of DHA, a component of fish oil, in depressed patients on suicide watch were lower in individuals who actually attempted suicide. Thus, blood levels of omega-3 DHA fatty acids may help predict who among depressed patients will try to take their lives. A previous Japanese study found an eight times higher risk of suicide in people with the lowest blood levels of omega-3.

A groundbreaking Swedish study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that eating fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel, compared with lean fish, such as cod, catfish, and shellfish,  or no fish, dramatically reduced a woman’s odds of developing the common form of kidney cancer known as renal cell carcinoma (RCC). In the initial part of the study, women who said they ate fatty fish at least once a week were 44 percent less apt to have kidney cancer than those who ate no fatty fish.

A second analysis that included 36,664 women showed that those who ate fish consistently–at least one to three times a month over a 10-year period–were 74 percent less apt to develop kidney cancer compared with those who did not consistently consume fatty fish.

This study is important, not only because it suggests that eating fish is a powerful deterrent to renal cell carcinoma, but because it is the first such large scale study to distinguish between eating fatty fish and lean fish. A recent “meta-analysis”  (a statistical review of the evidence) also in JAMA made headlines by announcing fish did not reduce cancer risk, but the studies included in the analysis lumped all fish and seafood –fatty and lean–together.

There is a huge difference, as the researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet point out. Fatty fish has up to 30 times more omega-3 fatty acids and five times more vitamin D than lean fish. Both omega-3 and vitamin D are thought to be the major anticancer agents in seafood.  Thus, you would not expect low-fat or lean fish to have the same impact on lessening cancer.

Bottom line: To get the potential anti-cancer omega-3s, eat fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, and/or take fish oil capsules.

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