Maternal omega-3 diets may reduce the incidence of breast cancer in offspring


According to researchers at Marshall University, a maternal diet high in omega-3 fatty acids protects against developing breast cancer in the offspring. In a new study recently published by Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, researchers found a significant difference between mice from mothers who were fed a diet high in canola oil compared to mothers who were fed a diet high in corn oil. A maternal omega-3-rich diet influenced genome-wide changes in the epigenetic landscape of the offspring and possibly modulated gene expression patterns.

Dr. Ata Abbas, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Marshall Department of Biological Sciences, led a research team led by Dr. Philippe Georgel at the College of Science. The research was conducted at the Cell Differentiation and Development Center in Marshall as part of a collaboration with the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine under the direction of Dr. W. Elaine Hardman performed.

The researchers found a three-week delay in mortality in mice fed canola oil to mothers compared to corn oil. The early mortality delay was significantly different, but the final overall survival rate was not. Eventually, all of the mice developed tumors, but the mice that were fed the rapeseed oil had tumors that grew slower and were smaller than the mice that were fed the corn oil. Transferred to the human time scale, the duration of the protective effect in connection with the mother’s diet would be several months (Sengupta et al., 2016).

This study is part of the work of researchers at Marshall University and others investigating the link between omega-3 fatty acids and a reduced incidence of various cancers, including, but not limited to, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Parental nutrition and intergenerational transmission has become an important area of ​​research; however, the mode of action is often difficult to grasp. The MU research group focused on “epigenetic” aspects of transgenerational transmission to explain the reported role of omega-3 fatty acids. Epigenetics involves changes in gene expression that are not related to changes in genetic sequences. These results have the potential to advance the development of simple diet changes that would reduce the incidence of various types of cancer, not only in those who follow the diet but also in their offspring. “

Dr. Philippe Georgel, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences at Marshall


Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine

Journal reference:

Abbas, A., et al. (2021) Epigenetic reprogramming mediated through maternal diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids protects against breast cancer development in F1 offspring. Limits in Cell and Developmental Biology.


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