Unintended weight loss is a major cause of increased mortality and health problems in patients with advanced cancer. Muscle and weight loss caused by chemotherapy can greatly reduce quality of life and prevent patients from receiving further treatments.
Research published in the American Cancer Society journal Cancer shows a protective effect for fish oil against the loss of muscle tissue and weight that occurs during chemotherapy treatment.
Researchers conducted a clinical trial of lung cancer patients receiving their initial chemotherapy treatments. Forty patients completed the study; 16 were in the fish oil group (dose of 2.2 g of EPA/day) while 24 other patients received standard care (no fish oil). Skeletal muscle and adipose tissue were measured using computed tomography images at baseline and the end of treatment. Weight was measured and blood samples were analyzed at the beginning and throughout treatment. Average treatment time was 10 weeks.
While the group that received standard care (no fish oil) lost an average of 5 lbs, patients that received fish oil maintained their weight. Nearly 70% of those who supplemented with fish oil gained or maintained muscle, compared to only 29 percent of those who did not receive it. Patients whose EPA (from fish oil) levels increased the most had the most significant muscle gains. Those who did not receive fish oil lost an average of 2.2 lbs of muscle. Fat mass did not differ between groups.
Larger studies need to be done to verify these findings, but they are significant since currently there are no effective treatments for cancer-related malnutrition.
Note: Always consult with your doctor about supplementation if you are undergoing treatment. But, this is an interesting study that may be worth discussing with your health professional.
Murphy RA, Mourtzakis M, Chu QS, Baracos VE, Reiman T, Mazurak VC. Nutritional intervention with fish oil provides a benefit over standard of care for weight and skeletal muscle mass in patients with nonsmall cell lung cancer receiving chemotherapy. Cancer. 2011;117(8):1775-82.