Should You Avoid Fish Oil While Getting Chemotherapy?

Anyone who ever picks up a book on healthy diet or listens to a talk show featuring one of the more well-known nutritionists knows that fish oil is a good thing. It isn’t pleasant to take, but we are advised to push past that because it has so many health benefits. But is that true across the board? What about the questions that have been raised about interference with chemotherapy treatment? 

Without a doubt, fish oil is an excellent source for omega-3 fatty acids and is one of those supplements that has gotten a lot of attention here. Omega-3 is vital for cells to properly function but is not produced by the body, which means that it must be provided by diet or through supplements.

Cardiovascular health issues have been prime motivators in researching omega-3 fatty acids. There has been a lot of interest in the fact that heart disease in Japanese men is less than a third of what it is for men in the U.S. Research seems to indicate that it has a lot to do with the amount of fish eaten by Japanese as compared to Americans. Beyond heart issues, the list of health benefits attributed to fish oil is long. Really long. As with most supplements, the entries will vary depending upon whose list it is, but some of less controversial of those are:

  • Support healthy cholesterol
  • Maintain normal triglyceride levels
  • Maintain already normal blood pressure
  • Promote joint health
  • Assist with weight management
  • Promote eye health
  • Support a healthy respiratory system
  • Enhance mental focus
  • Maintain muscle mass in older adults
  • Strengthen the immune system

Those benefits are hard to argue with. Plus, when someone is diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things that everyone around them says is that they should start eating a healthier diet and take supplements to help the body remain strong during treatment. A supplement that has proven to help with the issues on this list would, understandably, jump to the top. Results from recent research, however, has found that this particular supplement may do more harm than good to cancer patients.

Experimenting with mice, researchers have observed that the fatty acid found in fish oil, as well as some types of fish, can make cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy. According to Christine Metz, director of the Laboratory of Medicinal Biochemistry at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., “Our research shows that when you affect the membrane of cancer cells by altering the fats in the outer covering of the cell, you can make the membrane stiffer or more fluid. These fats can make it more difficult for chemotherapy to enter the cell or make the cell better at pushing the chemotherapy out of the cell.”

This is not definitive proof that fish oil interferes with chemotherapy in humans. There are even studies that claim exactly the opposite. It is hard to prove just how fish oil does affect chemotherapy in humans, because testing would require giving someone with cancer a substance that could interfere with treatment. Many healthcare professionals, however, advise their cancer patients to discontinue use of fish oil the day before, the day of and the day after their chemotherapy treatment.

To learn more about fish oil, watch the following video: