Fish oils combat weight loss in cancer patients

Fish Oils and Cancer Weight Loss

EDINBURGH, UNITED KINGDOM. Cachexia (abnormal weight loss) is a major problem in many types of cancer especially cancer of the pancreas. Preliminary research has shown that supplementing the diet with fish oils, about 2.2 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 1.4 grams of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) daily, will stabilize weight in patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Now researchers at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh report that patients with pancreatic cancer can actually gain weight by consuming a nutritional supplement fortified with fish oils. The experiment involved 20 patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer (aged 18 to 80 years). The participants were asked to ingest two cans of fish oil-enriched nutritional supplement per day in addition to their normal food intake. The nutritional supplement provided 310 kcal per can and contained 16.1 g protein, 49.7 g carbohydrate, 6.5 g fat, 1.09 g EPA, 0.46 g DHA, and 28 essential vitamins and minerals.

Consuming Fish Oils Improved Appetite and Performance Status

After three weeks the patients had gained an average (median) of 1 kg in weight and at seven weeks an average of 2 kg. A significant improvement in performance status and appetite was also noted after three weeks on the supplement. Other research has shown that EPA inhibits the growth of pancreatic cancer cells in vitro. It is therefore of interest to note that the average survival time among the patients was over eight months. This compares very favourably with the normal survival time of 4.1 months and is at least as good as the survival time that can be obtained with aggressive chemotherapy.

The researchers conclude that a fish oil-enriched nutritional supplement has the potential to be a safe and effective means of preventing weight loss in cancer patients and may even increase survival time in patients with cancer of the pancreas.

Note: This study was partially funded by Abbott Laboratories, the maker of the nutritional supplement.

Barber, M.D., et al. The effect of an oral nutritional supplement enriched with fish oil on weight-loss in patients with pancreatic cancer. British Journal of Cancer, Vol. 81, No. 1, September 1999, pp. 80-86

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