Researchers at the University of Illinois found in a new study that free fatty acids seem to promote the growth of breast cancer cells, especially in obese women after menopause.
Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, the study's lead scientist and the director of the Women's Health, Hormones and Nutrition Lab, said that the free fatty acids seem to increase the tumor cell growth, survival, and proliferation in connection to the estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer cells.
The connection between increased body weight and a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause is nothing new, but until now, it wasn't completely clear what lies beneath that connection. The study found that the women who developed breast cancer were also overweight and had a much higher concentration of free fatty acids in their blood.
The researchers took the study a step further though and treated the cancer cells with the blood of overweight women to see the connection more distinctly. It turned out that the cancer cells started multiplying and became stronger as a result – and the effect was that much stronger the higher was the fatty acid level in the blood.
What exactly are free fatty acids?
Fatty acids or just ‘fats‘ in general are one of the primary nutrition sources and one of the integral components for our cells. You've probably come to know fats as either saturated or unsaturated fats.
Free fatty acids, also known as FFA, are the by-products of metabolizing fats or more accurately “the hydrolysis of oils and fats”. This also means that frying produces more free fatty acids, thereby fried food can be one of the main causes of higher FFA concentration in your body.
Vegetable oils aren't off the table either when it comes to the FFA concentration. FFA might be found in some commercial crude vegetable oils as a result of vegetable tissue's cell damage during the harvesting, storing and transporting process. Even mild bruising might result in elevated FFA concentration, no matter the oil.
This means that oils and fats, no matter the type, might contain FFA. Usually, the concentration is very low and thereby, doesn't pose a threat, but when a diet is composed mainly of fatty, deep-fried and processed food, it's more than likely that free fatty acids might start doing some damage, especially to postmenopausal women.
Health risks associated with free fatty acids
In addition to potentially increasing the risk of breast cancer (or making the cancer cells more active), there are several health issues that have been linked with free fatty acids.
FFA has been long associated with insulin resistance – a situation where the body cannot use insulin properly, leading to high blood sugar. The FFAs inhibit glycogen synthesis and are responsible for several other complex processes, leading to insulin resistance. The issue shouldn't be taken lightly since studies have shown how a high FFA level has been literally the sole cause for insulin resistance even in non-diabetic people.
That's not the worst part yet though. FFAs are also able to activate specific pathways which are related to several inflammatory processes.
Beyond that, FFAs have a role to play in coronary artery disease and increased hypertension since FFA induced insulin resistance reduces the production of nitric oxide, possibly leading to nitric oxide deficiency which enhances the development of hypertension.
How to reduce free fatty acids naturally
Insulin resistance, inflammation, and possible hypertension are the biggest health issues that have been linked with FFA but it's clear that the list might not stop there. As the new study revealed FFAs strong connection to breast cancer, it's essential to reduce the consumption of FFA.
Free fatty acids are elevated in obesity, making it clear that the most effective and essential solution is losing weight. Losing a few centimeters from the waist is not just a matter of looks or feeling better in your body – it's essential for your health since every extra pound can cause major issues in your body, issues which you don't see or feel, starting from the health issues related to free fatty acids.
Beyond weight, a healthy diet is one of the fastest solutions to decreasing the level of FFA in your body. And it's also the one way to avoid FFA from ever causing potential issues again.
Here are a few key things to keep in mind in order to decrease the consumption of FFA:
- You don't have to cut out oils from your diet, but you should limit them. FFAs might sound scary but the issues arise when the FFA level is elevated – something that tends to happen in obesity. Most oils don't contain that much FFA to be significant or dangerous, so you don't have to cut out oils completely. However, keep your oil consumption to a minimum and opt for high-quality oils like coconut oil, avocado oil or canola oil.
- Keep frying to a minimum. As frying releases more FFA, it's wise to opt for other cooking methods such as sauteing or slow-cooking.
- Avoid deep-fried food. The more the food is fried and the more oil has been used, the more likely it is to consume an elevated amount of FFA.
- Reduce the consumption of fatty foods. Don't get this wrong – fats are good for you and in no way should you remove fats from your food. Fats are still an integral part in our cells and they're responsible for crucial processes in our body. However, if your current diet consists primarily of fatty foods and little to no other nutrients, it's essential to decrease the fats in your diet and opt for a more balanced dietary solution.
- Introduce more vitamins to your diet by consuming more vegetables and fruits. A healthy diet is a balanced diet, consisting of fats, carbs, proteins, and vitamins. Mediterranean diet is a good example of a balanced diet that helps you reduce the number of fats you consume and replace them with more fresh veggies and other healthy food items.
Free fatty acids are major culprits in many cases but the solution is simple – follow a balanced diet and avoid deep-fried food to reduce the amount of FFA in your diet.