AIMS: The term "enhanced recovery programme (ERP)" means applying defined protocols to augment the recovery of patients following surgery. Inflammation is body's response to insults such as infection, injury and surgical procedures. Inflammatory mediators whose function is initially protective may cause undesirable consequences, if the response is unnecessarily prolonged. The principle effects of ERP result from the reduction of the profound stress which results following major surgical procedures.

METHODS: A Pubmed literature search was undertaken using the keywords enhanced recovery, surgery and omega-3. The primary endpoint was whether the addition of omega-3 to ERP improved morbidity and mortality.

RESULTS: Nine randomised trials examining the effect of omega-3 enriched diets following surgery were analysed. Inclusion of omega-3 helps in maintaining a positive nitrogen balance, overcome immune dysfunction, lower the incidence of post-operative infections with the consequence of reduced morbidity and mortality.

CONCLUSIONS: The provision of early or continuous nutrition is one of the cornerstones of an ERP. A theoretically ideal regimen would provide an energy substrate and protein and contain a component which would limit inappropriate inflammation.

The beneficial role of omega-3 results from a number of effects which limit the inflammatory response, principally by influencing the production of eicosanoids and modulating cytokines. They also enhance cell-mediated immunity and preserve immune function better than standard dietary formulations.

Although ERPs have already produced significant progress, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the provision of omega-3 fatty acids may result in further improvements.