New whitepaper highlights the benefits of lipids in medical nutrition

Talking Nutrition Editors

Research into medical nutrition

  • Life expectancy is increasing on a global scale and the prevalence of age and lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are on the rise. To address and manage nutritional shortfalls and physiological challenges associated with NCD, there is a growing need for targeted medical nutrition solutions.
  • Emerging science indicates that omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) intervention may support the management of specific medical needs.
  • DSM’s newest whitepaper explores the latest science about omega-3 DHA and EPA in therapeutic areas including oncology, perioperative care and brain health, as well as the effects of these nutrients in the elderly population.

Increasing relevance of omega-3 DHA and EPA in medical nutrition

Omega-3 DHA and EPA are well-known to play a vital role in human health and overall wellbeing. They are one of the most studied nutrients in the world, with more than 36,000 scientific papers, including more than 4,000 human clinical trials, dedicated to their research1. Omega-3 DHA and EPA in particular, are essential in maintaining overall health throughout life. However, mounting scientific evidence now demonstrates that DHA and EPA may benefit patient outcomes in specific clinical settings, indicating that omega-3s could have a significant role in medical nutrition solutions. DSM addresses the latest findings in its new whitepaper, ‘Nutritional lipids in medical nutrition solutions’.

Four therapeutic areas where DHA and EPA intervention show most promise

Nutritional support is particularly critical for patients and senior adults as they are most vulnerable to risk of infection and disease. New research shows that omega-3 DHA and EPA could be important in managing the distinct nutritional needs of specific patient groups, helping to reduce medical complications, enhance patient outcomes, improve quality of life and lower healthcare costs worldwide. Here, we present the therapeutic areas where omega-3 intervention shows most promise:

1. Cancer cachexia

Although recent advancements in cancer research have greatly improved outcomes for patients, the frequent presence of malnutrition in cancer patients and unwanted weight and muscle loss – also known as cancer cachexia – can limit a patient’s response to treatment.2

Studies show that DHA and EPA’s anti-inflammatory properties may have an important role to play in cancer cachexia.3,4,5 Although results have varied, in some clinical settings, DHA and EPA have been shown to improve the immune response of some patients, helping to fight infection, improve the efficacy of cancer therapies and prevent cachexia progressing.6 Omega-3 intervention is therefore promising for cancer patients because it could promote better treatment outcomes and quality of life.

2. Pre- and post-surgery

Malnutrition is a serious risk factor for surgical complications as undernourished patients are more likely to experience longer hospital stays, increased risk of infection and higher mortality rates.7,8,9 Also known as immuno-nutrition, DHA and EPA supplementation pre- and post-surgery can help to reduce inflammation and risk of infection when provided in conjunction with arginine and nucleotides as well as various vitamins and trace minerals.10,11,12,13 Ultimately, this helps to improve wound healing, shorten recovery times and reduce the length of hospital stays.

3. Sarcopenia

Achieving adequate intake of essential nutrients becomes even more difficult as we age because of changing hormone levels, slower metabolism and decreased activity levels, leading to reduced energy requirements and nutritional frailty.14 Moreover, ‘anorexia of aging’ – which is defined by a decrease in appetite and/or food intake as we age – is a major contributing factor to malnutrition and negative health outcomes in older individuals.

Undernutrition in this population can lead to sarcopenia, an age-related degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality and function. Often this condition will impact a person’s quality of life and also increase the risk of mortality, emphasizing the need for medical nutrition solutions that aim to prevent or address sarcopenia.15,16 Recent research suggests that the anti-inflammatory effects of DHA and EPA, in combination with high quality protein and exercise, may be beneficial in mitigating the loss of muscle strength and physical performance associated with aging.17 For example, studies show that omega-3s can help by targeting the age-related low-grade inflammation that contributes to the development of sarcopenia. DHA and EPA may also modulate muscle protein and energy metabolism, promoting muscle strength and function.18

4. Cognitive health

Supporting cognitive health and the maintenance of mental wellbeing are some of the biggest healthcare challenges facing the aging population. And, with the number of people living with dementia expected to reach 152 million by 2050, the development of innovative medical nutrition solutions that will offer preventative care is critical.19,20,21 Based on observational studies, there is a clear link seen between DHA levels and brain health. Moreover, omega-3s are associated with decreased brain inflammation and brain support, suggesting the importance of including DHA and EPA in medical nutrition solutions that support brain health.22

Targeted nutritional solutions to meet healthcare needs

It is evident that the omega-3 DHA and EPA can help improve the quality of life and clinical outcomes of the specific patient groups outlined in this article. Recent research also indicates a promising role for DHA and EPA intervention in other clinical settings, including in patients with diabetes or chronic kidney disease.23,24 Each condition and individual patient present different and complex nutritional and clinical needs. And the development of personalized medical nutrition solutions that can be targeted to specific diseases, are appealing. Continuous work on an individual level is paramount for the future, more personalized treatment of patients. DSM is at the pulse of in-depth scientific advances and patient insights required to help improve our understanding of malnutrition in specific disease states and the impact of specific ingredients, such as omega-3 DHA and EPA, on patient outcomes.

Published on

19 February 2020


  • Medical Nutrition
  • Health & Nutrition
  • Article
  • Senior Management
  • R&D


4 min read

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