EPA-rich polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) make the sun less dangerous for sun-sensitive women, suggests a U.K. new study. The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and noted in the April PUFA Newsletter.

Exposure to the sun's UV rays is the major cause of non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common cancer among white-skinned people, write the study's authors. Solar ultraviolet radiation suppresses the skin's natural immunity. Previous studies using animals have suggested that omega-3 PUFAs help protect against the radiation. This study is one of the first to involve human subjects.

Researchers from the University of Manchester and other U.K. universities examined the effects of n-3 LC PUFA supplementation on 79 female volunteers between the ages of 18 to 60 years (median age, 44 years) whose skin sunburned easily with little or no tan. In the randomized, controlled study Subjects were assigned randomly to consume five capsules per day providing a total of 3.5 g of EPA and 500 mg of DHA or 5 g per day of short-chain saturated fatty acids for 12 weeks.

Participants were exposed to UV radiation from a solar simulator, aimed at the middle of their backs for three consecutive days. The key finding in this study, according to the PUFA Newsletter, supports results in animal studies and observational reports in humans that consumption of n-3 LC-PUFAs, especially EPA, reduces the immunosuppressive effects of low exposures to UV radiation. The study used large amounts of n-3 LC-PUFAs (~ 4 g per day) for 3 months in women who sunburn easily. Whether regular consumption of smaller amounts of n-3 LC-PUFAs or DHA alone would yield similar results is not known.

Don't go popping PUFAs and basking naked in the sun yet, however. “The possible effectiveness of DHA or EPA and DHA in humans,” write the authors, “merits further investigation.”