Health In Focus
  • Liver damage can occur as a result of poor diet choices and its consequences like obesity.
  • There are no effective FDA approved medicines for the treatment of liver damage caused by nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
  • New findings state that a diet rich in a type of omega 3 fatty acid called DHA, helps prevent serious liver damage in obese people consuming an unhealthy diet.

Being obese and making poor diet choices can lead to significant liver damage. According to new findings, a type of omega 3 fatty acid called docosahexenoic acid or DHA, helps prevent serious liver damage in such people.

Liver damage cannot effectively be prevented by drugs. The only means of obtaining liver health is through significant weight loss based on a very healthy diet, which should be sustained.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Halt Progression of Liver Disease, Prevent Liver Damage

Supplementing Lab Animals with DHA

The study by a team of researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) was conducted on laboratory animals.

In the experiment, when lab rats were supplemented with DHA, one of the most critically important of the omega 3 fatty acids, it was shown to stop the progression of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH into life-threatening health problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.

The results were positive even when the lab animals were fed with 'western diet' - one that is rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, around 80 million adults and 13 million children are obese, and about 30% of the nation's population is estimated to have some form of chronic fatty liver disease.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition in which fat builds up in the liver. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is the most extreme form of non-alcoholic fatty charaterized by liver inflammation, oxidative stress and fibrosis.

NASH increases the risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer and failure.

Around 30%-40% of adults in the United States have NAFLD and 3% to 12% have NASH. Around 20% of people with NAFLD have NASH. NASH is predicted to be the leading cause of liver transplant by 2020. Currently there are no effective FDA approved treatments for NASH.

"Considering there are no FDA-approved ways to stop NASH progression, other than weight loss therapy, this supplement may be of significant help," said Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute.

"In the time frame that we studied, DHA supplementation was not able to achieve full remission of NASH, but it did stop it from getting worse. NASH is a serious disease, an enormous health care cost and we need to put the brakes on it. There's clear evidence this might help." Jump added.

In the 10 year study period, among the NASH sufferers, 20% died due to cirrhosis and 12% died from liver-related conditions.

The study has helped to show that people diagnosed with NASH have very low levels of omega 3 fatty acids. But when the levels of omega fatty acids are raised, it helps to stop the progression of the disease.

Role of DHA

Omega 3 fatty acids form an important part of cell membranes and affect cell receptors in these membranes. They play an active role in making hormones that regulate clotting of blood and contraction and relaxation of artery walls. They also regulate important biological pathways, including fatty acid synthesis, oxidation, and breakdown of triglycerides or fats in the blood.

Due to all these reasons, omega 3 fatty fats acids have been proven beneficial against heart disease and stroke and also play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.

DHA, which is the most significant of the omega 3 fatty acids, is a natural nutrient and plays a role in repairing liver damage.

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are rich in DHA. They are found in lesser levels in some foods such as poultry, liver, egg yolks, and some types of algae.

Due to its importance to the developing fetus, DHA is being included in some prenatal vitamin and mineral formulas.


The current approach to manage NASH is through diet and exercise. This method if sustained, can help in complete reversal of liver damage.

In the current study, researchers noted that "this treatment, while ideal for clinical use, is likely not sustainable in NASH patients due to poor compliance."

DHA is a readily available supplement and is safe to use, researchers say.

"This scenario will likely be used clinically since patient compliance to low-fat, low-sucrose dietary recommendations has historically been poor." the authors report.

The findings will be published in PLOS ONE.

References :
  1. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease & NASH - ( information/liver-disease/nafld-nash)
  2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution - (
  3. Kelli A. Lytle et al. Docosahexaenoic acid blocks progression of western diet-induced nonalcoholic steatohepatitis in obese Ldlr-/- mice.PLOS ONE; (2017)
Source: Medindia

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