Fish oil supplements may help to prevent the wasting and weight loss associated with some types of advanced cancer, shows a UK study out this week.
Pancreatic cancer patients given a dietary supplement enriched with omega-3 fatty acids gained more muscle in the trial than patients given the same protein supplement without the fish oil, report the researchers in the October issue of Gut.
They also note that the patients taking fish oil said they saw a significantly improved quality of life compared to the control group.
The findings, which warrant further investigation, could prove significant for future treatment of cachexia, the wasting caused by changes in metabolism and loss of appetite and a major factor in the illness and death of patients with advanced cancer.
The team, from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in Scotland and other institutions, gave 200 people with pancreatic cancer either a high-calorie, high-protein supplement or an energy-dense, protein supplement enriched with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins E and C. The supplements were given in the form of a 480 mg drink, containing 620 kcal, 32g protein and 2.2g EPA (in the test group only), daily for eight weeks.
Before the multicentre, randomised, double-blind trial, the patients had lost about 17 per cent of their body weight and were losing on average 3.3 kg each month. After eight weeks of taking the supplements, weight loss had stopped in both groups.
However, given the reported non-compliance with full daily required supplements in both groups, the researchers examined the data for potential dose-response relationships. Fish oil patients demonstrated significant correlations between their supplement intake and weight gain. Such correlations were not statistically significant in control patients, said the scientists. And weight gain was associated with improved quality of life only in the EPA group, they reported.
"Post hoc dose-response analysis suggests that if taken in sufficient quantity, only the omega-3 fatty acid enriched energy and protein dense supplement results in net gain of weight, lean tissue, and improved quality of life," concluded the researchers.
They did not offer possible explanations for this effect.