Omega-3 Fats Tied to Less Cancer-Related Fatigue

Research recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggests that breast cancer survivors who eat a healthy dose of omega-3 fats may have some extra energy throughout their day. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute and colleagues looked at the relationship between omega-3 intake and fatigue among 633 breast cancer survivors.

Many people treated for cancer have lingering fatigue, even years after their therapy ends. There is evidence that good sleep habits and regular exercise can help. There is also evidence that chronic inflammation in the body may play a role in cancer survivor’s fatigue.

Omega-3 fats — found largely in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna — are thought to lessen inflammation. Research suggests that this is especially true if the omega-3 replace some of the omega-6 fatty acids that make a large share of the typical American diet. Omega-6 fats are found in margarine, vegetable oils and many snack foods, sweets and fast food. Too much omega-6 is thought to promote inflammation.

In the study, 42 percent of the women were considered “fatigued” three years after their diagnosis. The problem was more common in those with higher blood levels of an inflammation-related protein called CRP. However, women who had more omega-3 in their diets had lower odds of fatigue, particularly if they used fish oil pills.

Of women who got the most omega-3 relative to omega-6, at least partly from fish oil supplements, about 23 percent were considered fatigued, compared with 49 percent of women who did not use supplements and had the lowest omega-3 intake relative to omega-6.

“Consuming fish a couple times a week — particularly fatty fish — is already recommended to the general public, for overall health,” said Dr. Rachel Ballard-Barbash, one of the study investigators. “So that’s something that breast cancer survivors with fatigue can do for themselves,” she said.

Additional research will need to be done to test whether increasing amounts of omega-3, either dietary or supplements, could lead to a decrease in inflammation, and a decrease in fatigue.

Click here to read the abstract.

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