Taking a regular dose of omega-3 rich fish oil can boost skin immunity to sunlight, and could help to protect against skin cancer by blocking the suns ability to supress immune responses.
Sunlight-induced suppression of the immune system, known as immunosuppression, is known to affect the body’s ability to fight skin cancer and infection. Taking a high dose of omega-3 supplementation could cut sun-induced immunosuppression by around half, say the researchers behind the study.
“This study adds to the evidence that omega-3 is a potential nutrient to protect against skin cancer,” said Professor Lesley Rhodes from The University of Manchester, UK – who led the study.
“Although the changes we found when someone took the oil were small, they suggest that a continuous low level of chemoprevention from taking omega-3 could reduce the risk of skin cancer over an individual’s lifetime.”
Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the research team noted that while similar research has been performed previously in mice, their study is the first to translate such suggestions into research on humans.
“It has taken a number of years to get to this stage and the findings are very exciting,” said Rhodes, also of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust.
Rhodes and her team analysed the effect of taking omega-3 on 79 healthy volunteers. The participants were then randomised to receive five grams of a supplement containing five grams of omega−3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (70% EPA plus 10% DHA) or a control lipid daily for three months.
They were then exposed to the equivalent of eight, 15 or 30 minutes of summer midday sun (in the UK) using a light machine that provided solar-simulated radiation (SSR).
Immunosuppression was 50% lower in people who took the supplement and were exposed to 8 and 15 minutes of SSR, compared with people who did not take the supplement.
However, the study showed little influence on those in the 30 minute group.
The research team said their findings may be important in the battle against skin cancer because previous research has shown that sunscreens are often applied inadequately and only worn during holiday periods.
However, Rhodes stressed that the omega-3 was not a substitute for sunscreen and physical protection, and that omega-3 should be regarded as an additional small measure to help protect skin from sun damage.
The team are now continuing their research with further omega-3 studies being carried out on healthy volunteers. The study was funded by the Association for International Cancer Research.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Volume 97, Number 3, Pages 646-652, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.049494
“Randomized controlled trial of oral omega-3 PUFA in solar-simulated radiation-induced suppression of human cutaneous immune responses”
Authors: Suzanne M Pilkington, Karen A Massey, Susan P Bennett, Naser MI Al-Aasswad, et al