Essential fatty acids (EFAs), have been shown to modulate lymphocyte reactivity and destroy various tumour cells in vitro. Natural cytotoxicity, mediated by NK and LAK cells, is believed to play an important anti-cancer role in vivo. The effect of EFAs, given orally as dietary supplementation, on NK and LAK cell cytotoxic activity in patients with localized (n = 10) and advanced (n = 20) colorectal cancer has been studied, using in-vitro 51Cr release cytotoxicity assays with K562 (NK) and DAUDI (LAK) cells. The activity of effector cells was expressed as lytic units. NK cell activity showed no significant change following 15 days ingestion of EFAs in the group with localized cancer, but was significantly reduced in the group with advanced disease and continued to decline, reaching minimal levels following 6 months supplementation (P = 0.017). LAK cell activity showed no overall alteration after 15 days ingestion of EFAs in patients with localized cancer, but in the group with advanced disease, the reduction in the activity occurred at day 15 and steadily declined on prolonged intake, reaching significant minimal levels after 6 months of supplementation (P = 0.05). Cell surface marker analysis (FACSCD MABs) revealed reduced absolute numbers of CD16+, CD56+ and CD57+ lymphocytes (P < 0.05) in the patients with advanced colorectal cancer. More importantly, the cytotoxicity of NK and LAK cells returned to the pre-supplementation values, 3 months after cessation of EFA intake. Furthermore, there was no alteration in the cytotoxic activity of NK and LAK cells in the control group (advanced colorectal cancer without EFA supplementation) during the 6 months period of evaluation. These results suggest that prolonged EFA supplementation, in the doses used in this study, may have detrimental effects on natural anti-cancer cytotoxic mechanisms in patients with malignant disease.
Bibliographical noteThis work is supported by a grant from the Grampian Health Board and a grant from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. The authors acknowledge the generosity of Scotia Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Guildford, Surrey, UK, who supplied the essential fatty acids capsules for this work.
- colorectal cancer
- essential fatty acids
- LAK cells