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Trying to quit smoking? Try omega-3 fatty acids to curb cravings

Wednesday July 30, 2014 at 8:24am
Try omega-3 fatty acids to help quit smoking

Cigarette smoking is the greatest single cause of illness and premature death in the UK - approximately 100,000 people in the UK die each year due to smoking. Smoking-related deaths are mainly due to cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease. Smoking is estimated to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times, of men developing lung cancer by 25 times, and women developing lung cancer by 25.7 times. 

It's never to late to benefit from stopping smoking

As serious as the health risks from smoking are, the good news is that the health improvements in people who quit smoking are just as striking, it is never too late to stop smoking to greatly benefit your health! You reduce the risk of getting serious disease no matter what age you give up however, the sooner you stop, the greater the reduction in your risk. A smoker’s risk of stroke decreases to that of a non-smoker within 2 to 5 years after quitting, risks for cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, and bladder drop by 50% within 5 years of quitting, and the risk of lung cancer also drops by 50% within 10 years after quitting smoking. 

A study published in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may be an effective, affordable, and safe way to help quit smoking. 

The study involved 48 subjects (16 men, 32 women) aged 23 to 36 who smoked around 14 cigarettes per day. They were given either omega-3 fatty acids (5 capsules per day for a total of 2710 mg per day EPA and 2040 mg per day DHA) or a placebo for one month. 

A valid and reliable questionnaire was used to evaluate results

Each subject completed the Tobacco Craving Questionnaire - Short Form which consists of the following questions:


  1. I would be less irritable now if I could smoke.
  2. If I were smoking now I could think more clearly.
  3. I could control things better right now if I could smoke.


  1. I would enjoy a cigarette right now.
  2. A cigarette would taste good right now.
  3. Smoking a cigarette would be pleasant.


  1. If I smoked right now, I would not be able to stop.
  2. I could not stop myself from smoking if I had some cigarettes here.
  3. I would not be able to control how much I smoked if I had some cigarettes here.


  1. If I had a lit cigarette in my hand, I probably would smoke it.
  2. It would be hard to pass up the chance to smoke.
  3. I could not easily limit how much I smoked right now.

 The answers given where used to quantify their tobacco craving levels at the following points:

  • before the study began
  • after 30 days of supplementation
  • and then 30 days after stopping supplementation (60 days after the start of the study)

Results clearly show that omega-3 fatty acids help to quit smoking

After one month of treatment, those in the omega-3 fatty acid group saw a 25.7% decrease in their tobacco questionnaire scores compared to a 5.3% decrease in the placebo group. 

30 days after supplementation stopped, those in the omega-3 fatty acid group still had a 16.1% decrease in the tobacco group compared to 60 days previously. This decreased craving in the omega-3 fatty acid group produced an 11.2% decrease in cigarettes smoked per day compared a 1.5% decrease in the placebo group that was not statistically significant. 

Why does taking omega-3's help?

When suggesting how omega-3 fatty acids decreased the smokers’ cravings, the researchers referred to studies which have shown that low blood levels of omega-3 fats decrease the function of brain activity associated with reward and dependence. This is thought to result in an increased craving response to cigarettes. There is also research which shows omega-3 supplementation decreases stress activation in the brain and increases activity of serotonin - a 'feel good' chemical in the brain, this in turn can improve stress-coping behaviour.

The researchers concluded: “daily administration of omega-3 fats for one month was accompanied by a significant decrease in the number of daily cigarettes smoked and in reported tobacco craving” and that “omega-3 fats may be of benefit in managing tobacco consumption.”


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