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Fish Oil Fights Weight Loss Due to Chemotherapy


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A new analysis has found that supplementing the diet with fish oil may prevent muscle and weight loss that commonly occurs in people with cancer who undergo chemo­therapy. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the study indicates that fish oil may help combat cancer-related malnutrition.

Chemotherapy can cause people with cancer to lose muscle mass and become malnourished, leading to fatigue, a decreased quality of life, an inability to receive necessary treatments, and shorter survival.

Researchers suspect that supple­menting the diet with fish oil – which contains omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid – may help people maintain or gain muscle. To test the hypothesis, they compared the effects of fish oil with that of standard care (no intervention) on weight, muscle, and fat tissue in peo­ple with non-small cell lung cancer.

Two grams of fish oil per day provides a benefit over standard care, allowing people to maintain their weight and muscle mass during chemotherapy.

Study participants who did not take fish oil lost an average of 5 pounds, whereas those receiving fish oil main­tained their weight. Sixty-nine percent of the people in the fish oil group gained or maintained muscle mass. Comparatively, only 29 percent of those in the standard care group maintained muscle mass.

The authors concluded that nutri­tional intervention with two grams of fish oil per day provides a benefit over standard care, allowing people to maintain their weight and muscle mass during chemotherapy. Fish oil is safe and nontoxic with virtually no side effects. It may be beneficial to people with other forms of cancer and other chronic diseases that are associated with malnutrition, as well as to elderly individuals who are at risk for muscle loss.

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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2011.

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