However, supplementation had no effect on neutropenia – which results in a lack of infection-fighting white blood cells, neutrophils, that occurs in about half of people with cancer who receive chemotherapy.
Writing in the journal Nutrition, researchers in Japan wrote that chemotherapy-induced toxicities such as leukopenia, anaemia, general fatigue, stomatitis and appetite loss, not only reduce patient quality of life, but may also lead to discontinued treatment and dose reduction of cancer drugs.
While omega-3 fatty acids are known to have the potential to help maintain body weight and muscle mass preservation during chemotherapy, the team from from the Graduate School of Medicine at Osaka University has now found in a randomised study that omega-3 was also useful in reducing chemotherapy-induced toxicities such as stomatitis and diarrhoea.
“The present study did not demonstrate that omega-3 fatty acid–rich EN support decreased the frequency of chemotherapy-induced neutropenia any more than omega-3 fatty acid–poor EN support. However, the study did find that omega-3 fatty acid–rich EN support decreased the frequency of chemotherapy-induced mucosal toxicities,” they wrote.
The study involved 61 patients divided into two groups – the omega-3 rich (31) and omega-3 poor (30) groups. The omega-3 rich group had a daily dosage of 900mg omega-3, while the poor group got 250mg. The supplementation started from day three before initiation of chemotherapy until day 12. Patients in both groups drank the supplement (EN), and when they could not take the supplement orally, it was administered by trans-nasal tube.
All patients completed the cycle of chemotherapy that included the omega-3 supplementation. Dietary intake during both groups’ chemotherapy cycles were equal, and there were no significant changes in body weight from the two groups after the cycle.
The prevalence of stomatitis and diarrhoea were both reduced, they reported.
They added only a limited number of studies have previously examined the effects of omega-3 on liver function in patients undergoing chemotherapy.
They found the omega-3 rich EN support “significantly prevented an increase in the AST and ALT levels”, thus, also providing liver protection.
“To our knowledge, this study comprises the first report to demonstrate that omega-3 fatty acid–rich supplementation reduces the incidence of chemotherapy-induced mucosal toxicities and liver function disorders in patients with solid cancers who underwent chemotherapy,” wrote the researchers.
The study used linolenic acid, present in perilla oil and soybean oil, as the omega-3 supplement instead of EPA or DHA from fish oil, which the researchers said were used in previous studies on the effects of omega-3–rich supplementation in cancer patients.
They concluded: “Additional clinical trials are needed to determine the preferred type of omega-3 fatty acid required to reduce chemotherapy-induced toxicities.”
“Randomized study of the clinical effects of omega-3 fatty acid–containing enteral nutrition support during neoadjuvant chemotherapy on chemotherapy-related toxicity in patients with esophageal cancer”
Authors: Hiroshi Miyata, Masahiko Yano, et al