Protective Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Cancer-Related Complications

Nutrients. 2019 Apr 26;11(5):945. doi: 10.3390/nu11050945.


Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are considered immunonutrients and are commonly used in the nutritional therapy of cancer patients due to their ample biological effects. Omega-3 PUFAs play essential roles in cell signaling and in the cell structure and fluidity of membranes. They participate in the resolution of inflammation and have anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive effects. Additionally, they can act as agonists of G protein-coupled receptors, namely, GPR40/FFA1 and GPR120/FFA4. Cancer patients undergo complications, such as anorexia-cachexia syndrome, pain, depression, and paraneoplastic syndromes. Interestingly, the 2017 European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) guidelines for cancer patients only discuss the use of omega-3 PUFAs for cancer-cachexia treatment, leaving aside other cancer-related complications that could potentially be managed by omega-3 PUFA supplementation. This critical review aimed to discuss the effects and the possible underlying mechanisms of omega-3 PUFA supplementation in cancer-related complications. Data compilation in this critical review indicates that further investigation is still required to assess the factual benefits of omega-3 PUFA supplementation in cancer-associated illnesses. Nevertheless, preclinical evidence reveals that omega-3 PUFAs and their metabolites might modulate pivotal pathways underlying complications secondary to cancer, indicating that this is a promising field of knowledge to be explored.

Keywords: anorexia-cachexia syndrome; cancer; depression; nutrition; omega-3; pain; paraneoplastic syndromes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia / prevention & control
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / prevention & control
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Pain / prevention & control
  • Paraneoplastic Syndromes / prevention & control


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3