Taking omega-3 fish oils could help to protect against skin cancer, according to researchers at The University of Manchester. The team has just carried out the first clinical trial to examine the impact of the fish oils on the skin immunity of volunteers. Led by Professor Lesley Rhodes, Professor of Experimental Dermatology from the Photobiology Unit Dermatology Centre at the University, the study analysed the effect of taking omega-3 on 79 healthy volunteers.
Results of the study, funded by the Association for International Cancer Research, found that taking a regular dose of fish oils boosted skin immunity to sunlight. Specifically, it also reduced sunlight-induced suppression of the immune system, known as immunosuppression, which affects the body's ability to fight skin cancer and infection. The findings have been published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this month.
Professor Rhodes, who is based in the Photobiology Unit at the University's School of Medicine and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, said it was the first time the research had been carried out on humans. "There has been research in this area carried out on mice in the past but this is the first time that there has been a clinical trial directly in people," she said. "It has taken a number of years to get to this stage and the findings are very exciting.
"This study adds to the evidence that omega-3 is a potential nutrient to protect against skin cancer. 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."
Patients who volunteered for the trial took a 4g dose of omega-3, which is about one and a half portions of oily fish, daily and were then exposed to the equivalent of either 8, 15 or 30 minutes of summer midday sun in Manchester using a special light machine. Other patients took a placebo, before being exposed to the light machine. Immunosuppression was 50% lower in people who took the supplement and were exposed to 8 and 15 minutes of sun compared with people who did not take the supplement. The study showed little influence on those in the 30 minute group.