The expert panel cited benefits of a range of conditions, from slowing cognitive decline to protecting against Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Writing in Nutrients, they also looked at the evidence to support potential roles for omega-3s for sarcopenia and frailty in older people, for nutritional care of cancer patients, and for the nutritional management of critically ill patients.
While benefits are reported in the literature for all of these interventions, there’s a lot of inconsistencies in the data, noted the experts, which may be due to a range of factors, from EPA + DHA dose, to the timing and duration of the omega-3 intervention, the ratio of EPA to DHA, baseline omega-3 levels, and so on.
“There is good evidence that DHA and EPA are a safe and cost-effective treatment that could benefit multiple patient outcomes,” wrote experts from DSM Nutritional Products (Switzerland), University Medical Center Groningen (the Netherlands), Sapienza University (Italy), Centre Hospitalo-Universitaire de Toulouse (France), University of Oxford (UK), Klinikum St. Georg (Germany), and the University of Southampton (UK).
“Use of DHA and EPA in some conditions is supported by their inclusion in relevant guidelines, although the level of evidence has sometimes been considered to be low. This is because of inconsistent data on the effect of DHA and EPA on clinical outcomes, especially in some settings. This inconsistency has limited stronger support through guidelines and has hindered the wider acceptance of the benefits of DHA and EPA in the medical community.”
They added: “Additional and good quality studies building on the experience of existing studies will strengthen the evidence base required to inform relevant guidelines in the future.”
Unsurprisingly, much of the benefit derived from EPA and DHA is linked to the anti-inflammatory potential of the fatty acids.
“The evidence to date indicates that the provision of DHA and EPA through capsules, oral nutrition supplements, or enteral or parenteral formulas can help to regulate the inflammatory environment in a number of medical conditions and that this is linked in many cases to improved function, clinical course and outcomes,” wrote the researchers.
“As dysregulated inflammation is a component of many acute and chronic diseases, the potential application of DHA and EPA is broad in terms of prevention and treatment.”
The review calls for a focus on personalized approaches and “knowledge of a patient’s specific nutritional and medical needs” in order to best determine the route to optimal use of omega-3s. “This should take into account the interaction between genetics and nutrients as well as the interaction among the nutrients themselves,” they stated.
“Overall, the entirety of the evidence supports use of DHA and EPA in a range of medical conditions. Additional and good quality studies building on the experience of existing studies will strengthen the evidence base required to inform relevant guidelines in the future,” concluded the reviewers.
2020, 12(9), 2555; doi: 10.3390/nu12092555
“Expert Opinion on Benefits of Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA and EPA) in Aging and Clinical Nutrition”
Authors: B. Troesch et al.