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Omega-3 shown to provide protection against sun damage and skin cancer

By Andrew MCDOUGALL , 28-Feb-2013
Last updated on 28-Feb-2013 at 17:01 GMT

Omega-3 shown to provide protection against sun damage and skin cancer

Taking omega-3 fish oils could help protect the skin against sun damage and boost skin immunity to sunlight, protecting against skin cancer.

A new study by researchers at the University of Manchester in England has found that taking a regular dose of fish oils boosted skin immunity to sunlight and could complement the use of sunscreen for protection.

Previous research has shown that sunscreens are often applied inadequately and only worn during holiday periods, and whilst lead professor Lesley Rhodes stresses that omega-3 was not a substitute for sunscreen and physical protection, it should be regarded as an additional small measure to help protect skin from sun damage. 

The fish oil has already been shown to have many beneficial health effects meaning taking the supplement could also lead to a range of potential health benefits.

First human trial

Rhodes’ team carried out its first clinical trial to examine the impact of the fish oils on the skin immunity, analysing the effect of taking omega-3 on 79 healthy volunteers.

Results of the study, funded by the Association for International Cancer Research and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 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.

"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," says Rhodes. "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."

Daily dose

Volunteers took a 4g dose of omega-3 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.

Immuno suppression was 50 percent 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.

Dr Helen Rippon, head of Science at AICR, comments: "Skin cancer has been one of the fastest growing types of cancer, and numbers will likely continue to increase. It is always exciting to see research that AIRC has funded generating such promising results, and we look forward to seeing future developments in this area."

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