Fish Oil Increases Appetite — Even in Cancer Patients

Kokolulu Cancer Support blog…

Fish Oil Increases Appetite — Even in Cancer Patients


By Dr. Mary Hardy

Con­sump­tion of the essen­tial fatty acids from cold-water fish (com­monly called fish oil) pro­vides a wide range of health ben­e­fitsDietary fish oil, either from fish itself or sup­ple­mented in cap­sules, is effec­tive in help­ing toman­age sys­temic inflam­ma­tion, afinal com­mon path­way for many chronic dis­eases. How­ever, for many con­di­tions, such as can­cer, the amount of omega-3 fish oils needed is higher than can be achieved with diet alone.

Many of you will have seen that more advanced can­cer is often accom­pa­nied by a lot of sys­temic symp­toms, such as1:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Weak­ness
  • Weight loss, espe­cially loss of lean body mass or muscle.

Inflam­ma­tion con­tributes or helps to cause these effectsFish oil, by no means a cure for advanced can­cer, is part of the solu­tion to these prob­lems. Con­trol­ling these symp­toms, start­ing as early as pos­si­ble, main­tains a bet­ter qual­ity of life and con­trols some of the dam­age caused by can­cer. Being as well as pos­si­ble dur­ing treat­ment, allows you to take your best shot at cancer.

It’s per­verse, but just when you need to eat to keep your strength and body weight up, can­cer patients often expe­ri­ence a decline in appetite, in part caused by the can­cer itself.

In healthy patients, a recent study showed that fish oil stim­u­lates appetite2. Twenty sub­jects (10 men and 10 women) were given a fish oil sup­ple­ment con­tain­ing 3 grams of omega three fatty acids (O3FA)- 1.9 grams of eicos­apen­tanoic acid (EPA) and 1.1 grams of docosa­hexenoic acid (DHA) for three weeks. The fish oil sup­ple­ment did not show an increase in appetite before break­fast, but sub­jects reported feel­ing less full after eat­ing. Many can­cer patients stop eat­ing pre­ma­turely because they feel too full really quickly. Female patients only reported a sig­nif­i­cant increase in the desire to eat more.

What’s the bot­tom line?

  • Fish oil can inter­fere with some of the seri­ous con­se­quences cancer-related increases in inflam­ma­tionbring.
  • Min­i­mal doses needed for effect start at 2 grams of EPA + DHA. Some stud­ies have used even higher doses but those may be harder to tolerate.
  • Be care­ful with higher doses of fish oil if you have abnor­mal bleed­ing, very low platelets or are sched­uled for surgery or other inva­sive pro­ce­dures. As always, speak with your doc­tor or other health care provider before using.


  1. Cer­chi­etti LC, Nav­i­gante AH, Cas­tro MA.  Effects of eicos­apen­taenoic and docosa­hexaenoic n-3 fatty acids from fish oil and pref­er­en­tial Cox-2 inhi­bi­tion on sys­temic syn­dromes in patients with advanced lung can­cer. Nutr Can­cer. 2007;59(1):14–20.
  2. Damsbo-Svendsen S, Røn­sh­oldt MD, Lau­ritzen L. Fish oil-supplementation increases appetite in healthy adults. A ran­dom­ized con­trolled cross-over trial. Appetite. 2013 Jul;66:62–6. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.02.019. Epub 2013 Mar 6.
  3. McManus A, Merga M, New­ton W. Omega-3 fatty acids. What con­sumers need to know.  Appetite. 2011 Aug;57(1):80–3. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.03.015. Epub 2011 Apr 8.
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