A diet rich in fish oils has been found to have a positive effect on bedsores, researchers from Tel Aviv University reported in the British Journal of Nutrition and the American Journal of Critical Care.

The authors explained that fish oils, which are full of antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce blood pressure, improve immune system function, lower joint and skin inflammation, as well as promote good fetal development. In this study, the researchers had set out to determine what benefits, if any, fish oils might have for pressure ulcers (bedsores).

After sitting or lying down for long periods, critically ill patients are at risk of developing bedsores on the skin and underlying tissue.

Professor Pierre Singer of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Mirian Theilla at the Rabin Medical Center, designed a randomized trial to find out what the impact of dietary fish oil supplements might be on critically ill patients’ bedsores.

The patients had eight grams of fish oil added to their daily diet. Within three weeks, Prof. Singer and team found that:

  • Patients’ symptoms of pain and discomfort from bedsores improved by 20% to 25%
  • There was significantly less inflammation throughout the patients’ bodies
  • Their immune systems improved

Bedsores form because of a lack of oxygen, skin wetness and reduced bloodflow. The team had been inspired from a prior study which demonstrated that dietary fish oil supplements for bedridden patients increased levels of oxygen in body tissues. They wondered whether this increase in oxygen levels might help improve the symptoms of bedsores.

They recruited 40 critically ill patients to take part in the randomized study that they created themselves. Twenty of the participants received standard hospital food, while the other 20 ate the same, with eight grams of fish oil added each day.

As mentioned earlier, significant improvements in bedsore symptoms were detected within three weeks in the fish oil group, compared to those on just the standard hospital diet.

They also found that the fish oil supplementation had boosted the patients’ immune systems and helped reduce the swelling.

Professor Singer said:

“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.”

Blood levels of C-reactive protein were also significantly lower among those receiving the extra fish oils in their food. C-reactive protein is linked to inflammation and bacterial and viral infections, tissue injury, rheumatic diseases, and necrosis.

The team wonder whether fish oils may be useful for natural pain therapy.

They plan to carry out a study which measures pain intensity among post-surgical patients after knee or hip replacements, and correlate those measurements with the amount of fish oil they received.

Fish oils come from oily fish, also known as fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, mackerel and trout.

Nutritionists and scientists are interested in two particular substances found in fish oils:

  • DHA, which stands for docosahexaenoic acid
  • EPA, which stands for eicosapentaenoic acid

DHA and EPA are types of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Fillets of oily fish consist of up to 30% oil. Non-oily fish, also known as white fish, only have high fish-oil levels in the liver. Oily fish, apart from being good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, are also rich in vitamins A and D. White fish contain all these ingredients, but much less.

Although oily fish are thought of as better for the health than white fish (white fish is not bad for you), science has not yet proven this.

Most health authorities in North America and Western Europe encourage their people to regularly consume oily fish, or to take fish oil supplements, because of their health benefits.

Written by Christian Nordqvist