Wiley Logo Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy apparently lose muscle mass and become malnourished, which can pave way for fatigue, decreased quality of life, an inability to receive necessary treatments and shorter survival. Well, it now seems that fish oil plays an important role in fighting cancer-related malnutrition. A latest study asserts that supplementing the diet with fish oil can avert muscle and weight loss commonly occurring in cancer patients subjected to chemotherapy.

While conducting the study, a total of 16 patients were made to take in fish oil by consuming 2.2 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid/day and 24 patients did not. The study continued till patients completed their first-line (initial) chemotherapy treatments, which lasted for about 10 weeks. Scientists periodically measured muscle and fat by means of computed tomography images. Also blood was collected and weight was recorded at the start of the study and throughout chemotherapy.

Those who did not take fish oil probably lost an average of 2.3 kilograms, while patients receiving fish oil maintained their weight. The greatest increase in eicosapentaenoic acid concentration within the blood was reported after fish oil supplementation which benefited muscle. Sixty-nine percent patients in the fish oil group allegedly gained or maintained muscle mass. On the other hand, only 29 percent patients in the standard care group maintained muscle mass, and overall, patients in this group lost 1 kilogram of muscle.

“Fish oil may prevent loss of weight and muscle by interfering with some of the pathways that are altered in advanced cancer,” commented Dr. Vera Mazurak, PhD, of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. “This holds great promise because currently there is no effective treatment for cancer-related malnutrition.”

Experts were unable to register any difference in total fat tissue between both the groups. Supplementing the diet with fish oil appears safe and non-toxic with virtually no side effects. Two grams of fish oil per day can seemingly benefit over standard care and allow patients to maintain their weight as well as muscle mass during chemotherapy. It was also mentioned that fish oil may be useful for patients with other forms of cancer and chronic diseases associated with malnutrition. Fish oil is presumably helpful for elderly individuals at risk for muscle loss as well.

The study is published online in the journal CANCER.