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Omega-3 supplements reduce chemotherapy side effects

Omega-3 supplements reduce chemotherapy side effectsOmega-3 fatty acids are known to positively support chemotherapy by maintaining body weight and muscle mass. According to a new study that is published in the esteemed science journal, Nutrition, omega-3 supplements can even reduce different side effects of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is the pharmaceutical use of cytotoxins designed to prevent cancer from spreading by interfering with the division or metabolism of cancer cells. The problem is that chemotherapy also affects healthy cells, and that is what causes a host of different side effects. Mucosa, skin, hair, and bone marrow are particularly likely to be affected because the cells in these tissues, just like cancer cells, divide rapidly. The liver and kidneys, with their role in breaking down toxins in the body and excreting them, are also affected. Most cancer patients get side effects from their chemotherapy treatments, some to a greater extent than others. It was on behalf of this that the scientists behind a new study wanted to see if supplements with omega-3 fatty acids could help reduce some of these side effects.

More omega-3, fewer side effects

The study was conducted on 61 patients with esophageal cancer. All patients received neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which is given prior to surgery. In addition, 31 of the patients received a daily 900 mg supplement of omega-3, while the remaining 30 patients got 250 mg of omega-3 daily. Both groups consumed the same amount of calories while they received chemotherapy, so there was no significant difference in body weight between the groups after their chemotherapy treatment was terminated.
The group that got 900 mg of omega-3 daily had a significantly lower prevalence of diarrhea, oral infection, and liver function disturbances compared with the group that only got 250 mg of omega-3 daily. No significant difference was observed between the groups with respect to the reduction of white blood cells due to the chemotherapy.


On behalf of their study, the scientists concluded that supplementing with large doses of omega-3 helps to lower the incidence and severity of chemotherapy-induced side effects such as oral infections, diarrhea, and impaired liver function.

Why omega-3 fatty acids are so vital

Omega-3 fatty acids are constituents of all cell membranes where they help to control various biochemical processes. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids work together with omega-6 fatty acids in a biochemically intricate interplay, where it is important to consume them in the right balance. For instance, the omega-3 fatty acid, EPA, competes with the omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid, to produce some hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins that control inflammation and various other processes in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for

  • The structure of cell membranes
  • Brain function and nervous system
  • Cardiovascular system, blood pressure, and heart function
  • Immune defense and regulation of inflammation
  • Skin and mucosa
  • Counteracting cramps

Omega-3 fatty acids – fish or supplements?

The majority of people fall short of the recommendations for fish consumption and therefore fail to get adequate amounts of EPA and DHA. For those who dislike the taste of fish, or for people who receive chemotherapy and suffer from nausea, fish oil supplements represent a very useful alternative. Fish oil supplements based on free fatty acids are particularly useful for ensuring good absorption. It is important to choose a fish oil preparation that complies with health regulations in terms of peroxide count and content of environmental toxins.

How much omega-3 do we need?

International experts recommend the following:

  • 500 mg as prevention against a deficiency
  • 1 gram for proactive support for e.g. the brain and cardiovascular system
  • 2-4 grams for intensive support for e.g. aching joints and inflammation

Did you know that you get about 1 gram of omega-3 from a herring fillet and 3-4 grams from a salmon steak?


Yano, M et al. Randomized study of the clinical effects of ω-3 fatty acid-containing enteral nutrition support during neoadjuvant chemotherapy on chemotherapy-related toxicity in patients with esophageal cancer. Nutrition 2017


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