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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Premature Fatty Acid Media Frenzy

Updated: March 8th, 2019

A recent Dutch study has been published that is creating a large media ripple and alarm concerning the use of fatty acid supplements and cancer.

The study showed that two specific fatty acids, when used in mice and in-vitro (in cells in a laboratory), can interfere with the effects of chemotherapy drugs.

These fatty acids are KHT(n-6) and 16:4(n-3), and are types of a new fatty acid group called the PIFA’s (Platinum-Induced Fatty Acids).  According to this study, PIFA’s are found in some fish oil supplements (although data regarding which fish oil supplements is lacking).

The online and print media has now spread the word that fish oil supplements are bad for cancer patients.

This is problematic for several reasons.  First, conventional medicine typically does not rely on a single study in mice and cells to make medical choices concerning patients.  Secondly, there are abundant published benefits to fatty acid supplementation, in particular DHA, EPA and phospholipids.  Finally, if conventional wisdom promoted change in medical policy based on studies of this type, there would be many, many treatments included in the standard of clinical care that are presently absent.

The reality is that our understanding of fatty acid metabolism and effects on cancers specifically is still overall limited.  We have data showing benefit (multiple studies), and we are coming closer to understanding mechanisms, but overall we still are not close to a final understanding of the effects of fatty acids.

To be sure, it is worth noting that the PIFA’s interfered with chemo in this study.  We should take this into account and continue to gather information so we can make sound decisions.  Perhaps time will reveal that we should discontinue the use of fatty acids in every cancer patient receiving every chemotherapy drug.

But that time is not here.

To make blanket recommendations at this stage is premature, and the press’ sweeping statements concerning all chemotherapy drugs and all fatty acids is inappropriate at this juncture.

If you would like to learn more about fatty acid supplementation for your dog, check out the Guide.


Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Ann M. McHugh on September 29, 2011 at 6:05 am

    We just lost our 11 yo Keeshond to stomach cancer last week. I had purchased Dr Dressler’s book on both my Nook(downloaded from my computer) and in th paperback form. I found it very helpful and included so many of the sources that I had accumulated in my many years of dog ownership. Andie lived 50 days after her endoscopy that was conclusive fo the cancer and it was too far spread to consider surgery so we tried chemotherapy with a veterinary oncologist. The internal medicne vet thought Andie would be gone in a week or less, but she fought along with us and stayed for 7 weeks during which time we found the book very helpful. I recommended it to the office manager at my regular vet’s office and will be interested in his opinion. I am planning on cooking for the rest of my dogs as I feel it is something in the food we are feeding, although my dogs have lways had the highest quality of food regardless of price. i also cook some items for them. More recipes would be very helpful.

    • Demian Dressler on October 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm

      Dear Ann,
      I am very sorry to hear this sad news about your Keeshond.
      One thing to keep in mind on the home cooked maintenance diets is that most people go short on calcium. Make sure your recipe includes adequate calcium (my opinion is that Citracal is the best form of this, as discussed in the dog cancer diet). Also be sure to add omega 3’s and the deeply colored veggies, and take it easy on the carbs.

  2. John J on September 29, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Dr. Dressler……

    Are there any studies of alternative treatments….other than radiation….that have been effective at preventing the recurrence of Infiltrated Lipomas once the tumor has been removed?

    John J

    • Demian Dressler on October 12, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      Hi John,
      the short answer is no. The unhappy truth is we don’t have a proven, 100% way of preventing cancer recurrence. Curcumin based supplements including Apocaps may be beneficial in increasing apoptosis, but these are angry and aggressive tumors that resist most things. Could also contemplate neoplasene oral as another option. I hope this helps a little bit,

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