A new study finds that taking fish oil supplements counteracts muscle and weight loss that often make cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy feel fatigued and unable to continue treatments.
Earlier research suggests that fish oil—which contains omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid—may help patients maintain or gain muscle. To test the hypothesis, a research team led by Vera Mazurak, PhD, of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, compared the effects of fish oil with that of standard care (no intervention) on weight, muscle, and fat tissue in people newly diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer.
In the trial, 16 patients took fish oil (2.2 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid/day) during initial chemotherapy treatments which lasted about ten weeks and 24 patients did not.
Data show that patients not taking fish oil lost an average of 2.3 kilograms (5 pounds, 1.13 ounces) whereas patients receiving fish oil maintained their weight. Sixty-nine percent of patients in the fish oil group gained or maintained muscle mass. In contrast, 29 percent of patients in the standard care group maintained muscle mass, and overall, patients in this group lost 1 kilogram (2 pounds, 3.27 ounces) of muscle. No difference in total fat tissue was observed between the two groups.
“Fish oil may prevent loss of weight and muscle by interfering with some of the pathways that are altered in advanced cancer,” said Dr. Mazurak. “This holds great promise because currently there is no effective treatment for cancer-related malnutrition,” she added.
In addition, the investigators think that fish oil may be beneficial to patients with other forms of cancer and chronic diseases that are associated with malnutrition, as well as to elderly individuals who are at risk for muscle loss.
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Article Source: “Nutritional intervention with fish oil provides a benefit over standard of care on weight and skeletal muscle mass in non-small cell lung cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.” Rachel A. Murphy, Marina Mourtzakis, Quincy S.C. Chu, Vickie E. Baracos, Tony Reiman, and Vera C. Mazurak,. CANCER; Published Online: February 28, 2011 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.25709).