Role of fatty acids in malignancy and visual impairment: Epidemiological evidence and experimental studies

Airo Tsubura, T. Yuri, K. Yoshizawa, N. Uehara, H. Takada

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


International variation in breast and colon cancer incidence is positively related to total fat intake. However, total fat consists of different fatty acid families, e.g., saturated fatty acids (SFAs), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), and n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Epidemiological evidence and experimental studies suggest that these fatty acid families have different effects on breast and colon carcinogenesis. Therefore the action of each fatty acid on carcinogenesis should be evaluated separately. Although it is difficult to establish firm conclusions on the effect of each fatty acid in human epidemiological studies, experimental studies on animals and cultured cells suggest that n-6 PUFAs (linoleic acid and arachidonic acid) may have a tumor promoting effect, while n-3 PUFAs (eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid and α-linolenic acid) and conjugated fatty acids (CFAs; a mixture of positional and geometric isomers of PUFAs with conjugated double bonds) exert an inhibitory effect on tumor growth. SFAs such as palmitic acid and stearic acid show little or no tumor promoting effect, and the action of oleic acid, a MUFA, is inconclusive. In addition to regulation of abnormal cell growth seen in cancers, fatty acids also control cell loss seen in degenerative eye diseases, such as degeneration of lens material in cataract and degeneration of photoreceptor cells in retinitis pigmentosa. Experiments suggest that n-6 PUFAs cause deleterious effects, while n-3 PUFAs result in beneficial effects on the lens and retina. In particular, docosahexaenoic acid is known to be effective in rescuing photoreceptor cells from damage. Thus, understanding the function of each fatty acid is likely to be important for making progress in treating these and other diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-234
Number of pages12
JournalHistology and histopathology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology


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