Omega-3 helps liver disease patients

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Omega-3 supplements have been shown to improve liver function in some patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Research led by Professor Christopher Byrne has shown that taking omega-3 supplements could be beneficial for some patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

The results, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that NAFLD patients with increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood after taking supplements had improved liver function.

Fighting liver disease 

NAFLD, which usually affects patients who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes, is caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. If left untreated, it can lead to scarring of the liver (fibrosis), inflammation and can ultimately lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. It has recently been predicted that in the next decade NAFLD will be the most important reason for liver transplants in the developed world.

High levels of fat in the liver are also associated with increases in the risk of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Reducing the amount of fat in the liver through changes in diet could help to restore liver function and improve the health of those with NAFLD.

Omega-3 benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly those found in oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel, help prevent cardiovascular disease and are thought to have a wide range of other health benefits.

The research was conducted as a sub-study of the WELCOME trial, which previously established that patients taking a highly purified omega-3 supplement (Omacor) who had high levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexanoic acid (DHA) in their blood saw the greatest reductions in their liver fat content. The trial also informed the recommendation by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that omega-3 fatty acid treatments should not be given to all patients with NAFLD.

This study now offers a potential explanation as to why some patients benefit from omega-3 fatty acid treatment and others do not. Patients with NAFLD who took Omacor each day for 15-18 months and achieved high levels of DHA in their blood had better liver insulin sensitivity and liver fat metabolism at the end of the study, indicating that their liver was functioning better. However, not all participants who took the supplements had sufficiently raised DHA levels in their blood.

These results show the importance of personalising omega-3 fatty acid treatment to individual NAFLD patients to target the effectiveness of this treatment to those who will benefit most.

Posted on Thursday 5 October 2017