The main omega-6 oil, called linoleic acid, can trigger inflammation when consumed in excess. This can cause a number of diseases, and may also worsen many existing diseases.
Ironically, however, if linoleic acid undergoes a chemical alteration called conjugation, it becomes a very healthy oil. In fact, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) can reduce cancer risk and cancer growth, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower triglycerides, reduce inflammation, and improve brain function.
The family of CLA oils occur naturally in the meat and milk of ruminating animals such as cattle, goats, sheep, and bison, usually in somewhat low concentrations. The effects of various forms of CLA differ and vary among the tissues of the body. For example, the effect on the liver is somewhat different than in the brain.
A number of studies have examined how CLA affects cells. It operates through multiple mechanisms, such as cell-signaling, effects on cell membranes, production of eicosanoids, and genetic effects.
One of the best-studied effects of CLA is its ability to prevent cancer and reduce the growth and spread of certain cancers. Several animal studies have shown that CLA inhibited tumors of the breast, colon, and stomach triggered by carcinogenic chemicals.
In one of the studies, CLA did not reduce the number of pancreatic tumors induced by a carcinogenic chemical, but it significantly reduced the metastasis (spread) of the tumors, which is the main reason cancers are deadly.
In another study, researchers fed female rats a diet of either of butter alone or butter with CLA added to it. They found that the CLA-butter diet reduced chemically stimulated growth of the breast glands and tumors.
A separate study found that a CLA-butter diet in mice reduced premalignant lesions by an incredible 50 percent when compared to a control diet.
The concentration of CLA in the breast glands was high on the CLA-butter diet, and the number of tumors decreased around 40 percent when CLA levels were high. In experimental animals, CLA was also shown to significantly reduce prostate cancer incidence and growth of established tumors.
The exact mechanism by which these oils are inhibiting cancer is not known, though we know they are linked to several important pathways required by cancers for growth and metastasis. For example, a cell-signaling molecule called NFkB is elevated in virtually all cases of cancer, and it is linked to inflammation. CLA reduces the activity of NFkB, thus reducing cancer-causing inflammation.
It also suppresses formation of a powerful inflammatory prostaglandin, PGE2, which plays a major role in cancer growth, invasion, and angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels). At the same time, CLA is activating processes that cause cancer cells to commit suicide.
Caution should be exercised in giving CLA to cancer patients, as some studies have found that for less common tumors — cancer of the small intestine and certain liver cancers, for instance — CLA can actually make the tumor grow faster.
But for most cancers, CLA suppresses both growth and spread. These include:
• Colon cancer
• Breast cancer
• Prostate cancer
• Primary brain tumors (gliomas)
• Pancreatic cancer
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