Henry Winter
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Response to media reports on taking fish oil supplements during chemotherapy

Henry Winter
Posted by
14 Sep 2011

Some newspapers have picked up on research by Dutch scientists which indicates that fish-oil and algae based supplements, taken by many cancer patients, may prevent many different types of chemotherapy from working properly. 

Lead researcher, Professor Emile Voest of the Utrecht University Medical Centre, said: "... the body itself secretes protective substances into the blood that are powerful enough to block the effect of chemotherapy. These substances can be found in some types of fish oil. Whilst waiting for the results of further research, we currently recommend that these products should not be used whilst people are undergoing chemotherapy."

The chemotherapy blocking effect is caused by specific fatty acids and, crucially, the dosages needed to have this effect in mice are the same as the dosages recommended for people taking the supplements.

Importantly, the studies were based on cultured cancer cells and on human cancer cells growing in mice, so further research will be necessary to confirm whether the results apply for humans.

Ken Campbell, Clinical Information Officer at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “Until further research is carried out, we recommend that patients on chemotherapy should not take fish-oil or algae based supplements containing omega 3 or omega 6 without seeking advice from their specialist. 

There is no reason why cancer patients who are not currently on chemotherapy should not take these supplements. There is evidence showing possible anti-cancer and other health benefits from these supplements, and the researchers are not suggesting that patients should never use them.” 

The research is published in the journal Cancer Cell (Volume 20, Issue 3, 370-383, 13 September 2011) under the title: ‘Mesenchymal Stem Cells Induce Resistance to Chemotherapy through the Release of Platinum-Induced Fatty Acids’