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Fish oil curbs cancer-linked weight loss

1st March 2011

Eating fish and fish oil capsules may help cancer patients avoid some of the tissue loss associated with chemotherapy, according to a recent Canadian study.

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Study author Vera Mazurak said that fish oil acted on some of the biochemical pathways that also caused advanced cancer to develop.

She said that there was currently no effective treatment for cancer-related malnutrition, and that the finding held great promise.

Fish oil also seems to help cancer patients handle the fatigue and poor quality of life that generally accompanies chemotherapy.

For the study, the researchers first gave 2.2 grams of a particular omega-3 fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) to 16 chemotherapy patients.

Other oil capsules also commonly contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which can be synthesised within the body using EPA.

As a control, the researchers also assigned 24 patients to chemotherapy alone.

Taking continuous measurements of people's muscle mass and body fat, the researchers found that patients who took EPA fish oil capsules did not lose any weight at all.

The researchers whose EPA blood levels were the highest seemed to fare the best of all, indicating that the fish oil was somehow directly linked to the retention of muscle mass.

Less than 30% of the patients in the control group finished the study with their original muscle mass.

People's body fat did not seem to be affected by fish oil supplementation.

Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas in Southwestern Dallas, said that muscle wastage from cancer, which was metabolically active and consumed people's stores of energy, and that other studies had shown that fish oil prevented cancer- and chemotherapy-related inflammation.

She also said that the amount of fish oil in the study subjects' supplements was larger than the dose currently included in most fish oil tablets.

EPA and DHA both belong to a category of molecules known as omega-3 fatty acids, which also includes alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

ALA is found in many common vegetable oils and fruit seeds, including kiwifruit seeds and flaxseed.

The human body is not able to synthesise omega-3 fatty acids on its own.

Even when there are sufficient amounts of ALA in the bloodstream, which the body can convert into fatty acids that behave roughly the same as DHA and EPA, the process is far less efficient than simply consuming fish oil.

 

 

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