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Omega-3 fatty acids may have even more health benefits than thought

Harold Mandel's picture
Tasty and nutritious sardines

There has been a great deal of excitement over the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. They have been shown in research to benefit heart health and brain health. More and more people have been enjoying more fish and taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements due to these findings. Recent research shows that omega-3 fatty acids may have even more health benefits than originally thought.

Researchers have found omega-3 fatty acids may offer protection against diet-induced nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, reported PLOS One. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a very serious condition. NASH is a progressive form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease which is associated with a risk factor for cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma and liver failure. In studies of mice livers these researchers found that DHA may offer protective effects against western diet induced NASH in mice.

The researchers have found there may be more benefits for one type of omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, than previously thought, reported Oregon State University on Jan. 23, 2014, in a discussion of this research. In a study dealing with the metabolic effects of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, it was concluded that these compounds may have an even wider range of biological impacts than had been considered previously. Specifically, it has been suggested they could be of significant value to help in the prevention of fatty liver disease.

The scientists at Oregon State University and several other institutions, used what is known as metabolomics for this research. This is based on an analysis of metabolites that reflects the many biological effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the liver. The researchers also investigated the challenges the liver is confronted with from the western diet, which has been increasingly associated to liver inflammation, fibrosis, cirrhosis and sometimes liver failure.

There were many unanticipated effects from supplements of DHA used at levels which are sometimes prescribed to reduce blood triglycerides. The researchers observed many changes dealing with:

1: Vitamin and carbohydrate metabolism

2: Protein and amino acid function

3: Lipid metabolism

Metabolic damage associated with these pathways is often associated with a typical western diet consisting of consumption of too much unhealthy foods including:

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1: Red meat

2: Sugar

3: Saturated fat

4: Processed grains

With DHA supplementation metabolic damage through these pathways was partially or totally prevented.

Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, has said, “We were shocked to find so many biological pathways being affected by omega-3 fatty acids.” Effects on lipid metabolism and inflammation have been found in most studies. Jump says metabolomics analysis by his research team indicates that the effects of omega-3 fatty acids extend beyond that to include carbohydrate, amino acid and vitamin metabolism.

These researchers have concluded that DHA has far more ability than EPA to prevent the formation of harmful metabolites. In fact one study showed that DHA supplementation lowered the proteins which are involved in liver fibrosis by greater than 65 percent. These research initiatives were done with laboratory animals. The researchers used a level of DHA supplementation which would equal about 2-4 grams per day for an average person. The most common source of DHA in the diet is fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines.

The most recent research therefore shows that DHA may have even more health value than was previously thought. Jump has said, “A lot of work has been done on fatty liver disease, and we are just beginning to explore the potential for DHA in preventing or slowing disease progression.” Jump has pointed out that fish oils, which is a common supplement used to provide omega-3, are not presently prescribed to regulate blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. However, these studies have suggested that DHA may lower the formation of harmful glucose metabolites which are linked to diabetic complications. Diabetes and liver disease are being seen more often in the United States.

It has been estimated by the American Liver Foundation that approximately 25 percent of the nation’s population, and about 75 percent of those who are obese, suffer from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This condition can progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, cirrhosis and cancer. It has been established by this study that the primary target of DHA in the liver is the control of inflammation, oxidative stress and fibrosis. These have been identified as the characteristics of more progressively serious liver problems. The researchers have observed that omega-3 fatty acids appear to prevent cells from responding to and being damaged by whatever it is that is causing the inflammation.

A review of this study highlights that the problem of western diet induced fatty liver disease has not received the attention which it deserves. With more and more Americans and other people worldwide suffering from obesity and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease which can progress to deadly conditions, this is a serious matter. The public is being blindly killed and killing themselves from poor diets at higher rates than ever imagined. I see people who are obese and who have obese children taking the seriousness of their condition too lightly daily as they pick up what is promised to be perhaps just one extra sugary soda pop and custard cream pie for the family at the supermarket. That's before they decide to go for a bag of double cheeseburgers, french fries and hot fudge sundaes from a fast food place the next day.

Our modern societies are addicted to unhealthy junk food and people are killing themselves in similar manners as heroin junkies kill themselves with more dope daily. To tackle this problem, for a start I suggest investing in more aggressive public health education initiatives aimed at helping the public appreciate these facts in order to help them make more well informed choices about what they put in their own bodies daily. I also encourage primary care physicians to take the issue of a recognition of obesity as a disease seriously and spend some extra time counseling patients about this matter and their diets and other lifestyle factors. Eating extra fish and taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help with the serious problem of fatty liver disease often developing in association with typical western diets.



NASH is lipotoxicity in the liver caused by insulin resistance that can be reduced by omega-3 fatty acids especially when coupled to an anti-inflammatory diet.