Your local hospital isn’t the kind of place you probably want to spend a lot of time in. So if you or someone you love is about to undergo surgery, you’ll be happy to know there’s something simple you can do that could help you get out of dodge quicker†. According to a recent review of studies conducted by researchers from China Capital Medical University, taking omega-3 fatty acids can help shorten a hospital stay after you’ve had surgery. †
It makes sense that good nutrition would improve surgical recovery. This question has been the subject of previous research. But the small sample sizes of some of the studies looking specifically at omega-3s made their conclusions tentative. So for this review, researchers pooled data from nine randomized, controlled trials enrolling 623 surgical patients.
The results? Patients who took omega-3 supplements had shorter hospital stays than those who didn’t.* They also benefitted from a healthy inflammation response and better immune activation.* Specifically, omega-3s lowered levels of two markers of inflammation, while raising levels of several key immune cells.*
One limitation the researchers noted was that the studies were from different countries with different levels of dietary omega-3 intake, which might account for some differing results from supplementation. They called for larger trials, but for now, the overall finding seems to be that omega-3s do help surgery patients recover more quickly.* And since most of us would rather be home in our own cozy beds than stuck in a busy, sterile hospital, that’s a tangible quality-of-life benefit.
Researchers recommend starting omega-3 supplementation five to seven days before surgery and continuing into the postoperative period. Given the wide-ranging benefits of omega-3s for overall health, though, eating a diet rich in fatty fish, seaweed, walnuts, and flax seeds is always a good idea. And if eating those foods consistently is challenging for you, a fish oil or flax oil supplement is a convenient alternative. Omega 3s have been known to have a potential blood thinning effect, so always talk with your doctor about all the medications and supplements you are taking before surgery.
* This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease.
† Not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Tell your doctor about all medications and supplements you are taking.
 Yu J, et al. BMC Cancer. 2017 Apr 14;17(1):271