TAU research shows that fish oil reduces bedsores

Study finds adding fish oil supplements to the diet of critically ill patients cuts back their bedsores.

December 4, 2012 23:11
2 minute read.
Medication [illustrative]

Fish oil capsules pills medicine health 390. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Consuming fish oil capsules – containing large amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants – is recommended by experts to help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation in the skin and joints, promote healthy fetal development and even relieve “the blues.”

Now a Tel Aviv University researcher has found that it also has a positive effect on pressure ulcers – known to the layman as bedsores.

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The research was recently reported in the British Journal of Nutrition and the American Journal of Critical Care.

Pressure sores are a common problem in critically ill patients who constantly lie down or sit, putting pressure on the skin and the tissue underneath. As such patients often have poor blood circulation, the bedsores that develop are painful and easily get infected. But while everything from hyperbaric oxygen treatment and injections have been used, they are not easily healed.

Inadequately treated, they can lead to gangrene, amputation and even death.

Prof. Pierre Singer of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and doctoral candidate Miriam Theilla of the Rabin Medical Center designed a randomized experiment to determine the effect of dietary fish oil supplements on the bedsores of critically ill patients.

After three weeks of adding eight grams of fish oil to their patients’ daily diet, the researchers found a significant reduction of pain and discomfort from bedsores – a 20 percent to 25% improvement – according to the Pressure Ulcer Scale for Healing.

In addition, the fish oil brought about a more efficient immune system and reduced inflammation throughout the body.

Inspired by the results of a previous study showing that dietary fish oil supplements for critically ill patients raised oxygen levels in body tissues, Singer and his team wanted to know whether the supplement could also help heal bedsores, which are also formed by a lack of oxygen, reduced blood flow and wet skin.

To test this theory, the researchers conducted a randomized study with 40 critically ill patients. Half were put on standard hospital diets, while the rest had a daily addition of eight grams of fish oil added to their food.

After a three-week period, the patients in the fish-oil group had an average of 20% to 25% improvement in the healing of their bedsores compared to the control group.

Not only were the bedsore smaller, but the researchers also found that the patients in the fish-oil group had a boosted immune system and less swelling.

“We saw a modification in the expression of a group of molecules associated with directing leukocytes, or white blood cells, in the direction of the wound, which could explain the improved healing,” explained Singer. In addition, researchers noted a significant decrease in the amount of C-reactive protein in the blood, which is associated with inflammation and linked to viral and bacterial infections, rheumatic diseases, tissue injury and necrosis.

The team now plan to explore the use of fish oil as a method of natural pain management.

By measuring the intensity of pain experience in post-surgical patients who have undergone either knee or hip replacements and comparing it to the amount of fish oil the patient has received, they hope to find out whether the nutrient-rich oil can also reduce their patients’ suffering.

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