Cancer Center
Vitamins + Supplements

Fish Oil Could Cause Resistance to Chemo

Researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam found that consuming herring and mackerel as well as three kinds of fish oils, raised blood levels of the fatty acid, which experiments in mice suggest may induce resistance to chemotherapy used to treat cancer. The study was published online in April 2015 by JAMA Oncology.

A release from the publisher notes that patients with cancer often adopt lifestyle changes and those changes often include the use of supplements. But there is growing concern about the use of supplements while taking anticancer drugs and the possible effect on treatment outcomes, according to the study background.

Emile E. Voest, M.D., Ph.D. and coauthors examined exposure to the fatty acid known as 16:4(n-3) after eating fish or taking fish oil.

The authors examined the rate of fish oil use among patients undergoing cancer treatment, while researchers also recruited healthy volunteers to examine blood levels of the fatty acid after ingestion of fish oils and fish. The fish oil portion included 30 healthy volunteers and the fish portion included 20 healthy volunteers.

Among 118 cancer patients who responded to a survey about the use of nutritional supplements, 35 (30 percent) reported regular use and 13 (11 percent) used supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, according to the results.

The study found increased blood levels of the fatty acid 16:4(n-3) in healthy volunteers after the recommended daily amount of 10 mL of fish oil was administered. An almost complete normalization of blood levels was seen eight hours after the 10-mL fish oil dose was given, while a more prolonged elevation resulted after a 50-mL dose, according to the results.

Eating 100 grams of herring and mackerel also increased blood levels of 16:4(n-3) compared with tuna, which did not affect blood levels, and salmon consumption, which resulted in a small, short-lived peak.

“Taken together, our findings are in line with a growing awareness of the biological activity of various fatty acids and their receptors and raise concern about the simultaneous use of chemotherapy and fish oil. Based on our findings, and until further data become available, we advise patients to temporarily avoid fish oil from the day before chemotherapy until the day thereafter,” the study concludes.


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