What is Cachexia?
EDINBURGH, UNITED KINGDOM. Cachexia (abnormally low weight, weakness, and general bodily decline) is common in patients suffering from pancreatic cancer. Cachexia makes patients more prone to infections, can shorten their survival, and reduce their mobility.
EPA and DHA are Found in Fatty Fish and Fish Oils
Researchers at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh have released the results of a study which clearly shows that fish oil supplementation can halt and even reverse cachexia in patients with pancreatic cancer. Fish oil supplements are rich in the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic (EPA and DHA, respectfully). The study involved 18 patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer (9 had stage IV tumors). The patients were started out on 2 grams/day of fish oils (containing 360 mg of EPA and 240 mg of DHA). The dose was subsequently increased by 2 grams/day every week until the patients’ body tolerance was reached. The average final intake was 12 grams/day. Prior to entering the trial the average (mean) weight loss among the patients was 2.9 kg (6.3 lbs) per month. After 3 months of fish oil supplementation an average weight gain of 0.3 kg/month was observed among the patients. Overall, 11 patients (61%) gained weight, 3 became weight-stable, and 4 continued to lose weight, but at a significantly reduced rate. The concentration of EPA in plasma phospholipids increased from 0 to 5.3% of total fatty acids after 1 month of supplementation while the concentration of DHA increased to 6.6% from a base level of 3.5%. The researchers conclude that fish oil supplementation arrests weight loss in cancer patients with cachexia.
Wigmore, Stephen J., et al. The effect of polyunsaturated fatty acids on the progress of cachexia in patients with pancreatic cancer. Nutrition (suppl), Vol. 12, No. 1, 1996, pp. S27-S30