Lipids traditionally used in artificial nutrition are based on n-6 fatty acid-rich vegetable oils like soyabean oil. This may not be optimal because it may present an excessive supply of linoleic acid.

One alternative to the use of soyabean oil is its partial replacement by fish oil, which contains n-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids influence inflammatory and immune responses and so may be useful in particular situations where those responses are not optimal. Fish oil-containing lipid emulsions have been used in parenteral nutrition in adult patients post-surgery (mainly gastrointestinal). This has been associated with alterations in patterns of inflammatory mediators and in immune function and, in some studies, a reduction in length of intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital stay.

Perioperative administration of fish oil may be superior to post-operative. Parenteral fish oil has been used in critically ill adults. Here the influence on inflammatory processes, immune function and clinical endpoints is not clear, since there are too few studies and those that are available report contradictory findings.

Fish oil is included in combination with other nutrients in various enteral formulas. In post-surgical patients and in those with mild sepsis or trauma, there is clinical benefit from a formula including fish oil and arginine.

A formula including fish oil, borage oil and antioxidants has demonstrated marked benefits on gas exchange, ventilation requirement, new organ failures, ICU stay and mortality in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, acute lung injury or severe sepsis.