Background: The aim of the current prospective, randomized control study was to investigate the effect of dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids plus vitamin E on the immune status and survival of well-nourished and malnourished patients with generalized malignancy.
Methods: Sixty patients with generalized solid tumors were randomized to receive dietary supplementation with either fish oil (18 g of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, PUFA) or placebo daily until death. Each group included 15 well-nourished and 15 malnourished patients. The authors measured total T cells, T-helper cells, T-suppressor cells, natural killer cells, and the synthesis of interleukin-1, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor by peripheral blood mononuclear cells before and on Day 40 of fish oil supplementation. Karnofsky performance status, nutritional state, and survival were also estimated.
Results: The ratio of T-helper cells to T-suppressor cells was significantly lower in malnourished patients. Omega-3 PUFA had a considerable immunomodulating effect by increasing this ratio in the subgroup of malnourished patients. There were no significant differences in cytokine production among the various groups, except for a decrease in tumor necrosis factor production in malnourished cancer patients, which was restored by omega-3 fatty acids. The mean survival was significantly higher for the subgroup of well-nourished patients in both groups, whereas omega-3 fatty acids prolonged the survival of all the patients.
Conclusions: Malnutrition appears to be an important predictor of survival for patients with end stage malignant disease. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids had a significant immunomodulating effect and seemed to prolong the survival of malnourished patients with generalized malignancy.