Effect of fish oil on appetite and other symptoms in patients with advanced cancer and anorexia/cachexia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study

J Clin Oncol. 2003 Jan 1;21(1):129-34. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2003.01.101.


Purpose: To determine whether high doses of fish oil, administered over 2 weeks, improve symptoms in patients with advanced cancer and decreased weight and appetite.

Patients and methods: Sixty patients were randomly assigned to fish oil capsules or placebo. Appetite, tiredness, nausea, well-being, caloric intake, nutritional status, and function were prospectively assessed at days 1 and 14.

Results: The baseline weight loss was 16 +/- 11 and 16 +/- 8 kg in the fish oil (n = 30) and placebo (n = 30) group respectively, whereas the baseline appetite (0 mm = best and 10 mm = worst) was 58 +/- 24 mm and 67 +/- 19 mm, respectively (P = not significant). The mean daily dose was 10 +/- 4 (fish oil group) and 9 +/- 3 (placebo group) capsules, which provided 1.8 g of eicosapentaenoic acid and 1.2 g of docosahexaenoic acid in the fish oil group. No significant differences in symptomatic or nutritional parameters were found (P <.05), and there was no correlation between changes in different variables between days 1 and 14 and the fish oil doses. Finally, the majority of the patients were not able to swallow more than 10 fish oil capsules per day, mainly because of burping and aftertaste.

Conclusion: Fish oil did not significantly influence appetite, tiredness, nausea, well-being, caloric intake, nutritional status, or function after 2 weeks compared with placebo in patients with advanced cancer and loss of both weight and appetite.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia / etiology
  • Anorexia / therapy*
  • Cachexia / etiology
  • Cachexia / therapy*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Fish Oils / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Fish Oils