More Benefits Emerge for Liver Disease, Diabetes from DHA in Fish Oil's
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
DHA used at levels that prescribed to reduce blood triglycerides
appeared to have many unanticipated healthy effects
Jan. 23, 2014 - A study of the metabolic effects of omega-3 fatty acids,
especially DHA, concludes that these compounds from fish oil may have an
even wider range of biological impacts than previously considered, and
suggests they could be of significant value in the prevention of fatty
liver disease. One study suggested that DHA may also reduce the
formation of harmful glucose metabolites linked to diabetic
The research, done by scientists at Oregon State University and several
other institutions, was one of the first of its type to use “metabolomics,”
an analysis of metabolites that reflect the many biological effects of
omega-3 fatty acids on the liver. It also explored the challenges this
organ faces from the “Western diet” that increasingly is linked to liver
inflammation, fibrosis, cirrhosis and sometimes liver failure.
The results were surprising, researchers say.
Supplements of DHA, used at levels that are sometimes prescribed to
reduce blood triglycerides, appeared to have many unanticipated effects.
There were observable changes in vitamin and carbohydrate metabolism,
protein and amino acid function, as well as lipid metabolism.
Supplementation with DHA partially or totally prevented metabolic damage
through those pathways often linked to the Western diet – excessive
consumption of red meat, sugar, saturated fat and processed grains.
The findings were published last month in PLOS One, an online
“We were shocked to find so many biological pathways being affected by
omega-3 fatty acids,” said Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College
of Public Health and Human Sciences. “Most studies on these nutrients
find effects on lipid metabolism and inflammation.
“Our metabolomics analysis indicates that the effects of omega-3 fatty
acids extend beyond that, and include carbohydrate, amino acid and
vitamin metabolism,” he added.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been the subject of much recent research, often
with conflicting results and claims. Possible reasons for contradictory
findings, OSU researchers say, are the amount of supplements used and
the relative abundance of two common omega-3s – DHA and EPA.
About Omega-3 Fatty Acids and DHA
The three principal omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA),
eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA.
main sources of ALA in the U.S. diet are vegetable oils, particularly
canola and soybean oils; flaxseed oil is richer in ALA than soybean and
canola oils but is not commonly consumed. ALA can be converted, usually
in small amounts, into EPA and DHA in the body. EPA and DHA are found in
seafood, including fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, and trout) and
shellfish (e.g., crab, mussels, and oysters).
Commonly used dietary supplements that contain omega-3s include fish
oil (which provides EPA and DHA) and flaxseed oil (which
provides ALA). Algae oils are a vegetarian source of DHA.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a number of bodily functions,
including muscle activity, blood clotting, digestion, fertility, and
cell division and growth.
DHA is important for brain development
ALA is an "essential" fatty acid, meaning that people must
obtain it from food or supplements because the human body cannot
Studies at OSU have concluded that DHA has far more ability than EPA to
prevent the formation of harmful metabolites. In one study, it was found
that DHA supplementation reduced the proteins involved in liver fibrosis
by more than 65 percent.
These research efforts, done with laboratory animals, used a level of
DHA supplementation that would equate to about 2-4 grams per day for an
average person. In the diet, the most common source of DHA is fatty
fish, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines.
The most recent research is beginning to break down the specific
processes by which these metabolic changes take place. If anything, the
results suggest that DHA may have even more health value than previously
“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,” said Jump, who is also a principal investigator in
OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute.
“Fish oils, a common supplement used to provide omega-3, are also not
prescribed to regulate blood glucose levels in diabetic patients,” he
said. “But our studies suggest that DHA may reduce the formation of
harmful glucose metabolites linked to diabetic complications.”
Both diabetes and liver disease are increasing steadily in the United
The American Liver Foundation has estimated that about 25 percent of the
nation’s population, and 75 percent of those who are obese, have
nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This can progress to nonalcoholic
steatohepatitis, cirrhosis and cancer.
This study established that the main target of DHA in the liver is the
control of inflammation, oxidative stress and fibrosis, which are the
characteristics of more progressively serious liver problems. Omega-3
fatty acids appear to keep cells from responding to and being damaged by
whatever is causing inflammation.
Collaborators on this research were from OSU, the Baylor College of
Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Metabolon, Inc. It
was supported by the USDA and the National Institutes of Health.
More Links to Archived Stories about Omega-3 Fatty Acids
UK researchers find omega-3 fatty acids slow down osteoarthritis, at least in guinea pigs; I think it worked for me!
By Tucker Sutherland, editor, SeniorJournal.com
Oct. 17, 2011 – As an active
– well very active – tennis player for many years, when I turned 70 I was worried my playing days might end due to my aching knees. I never
took the court without wearing the latest in knee protection devices. Then, shortly after I increased my daily regimen of fish oil pills, the
knee pain disappeared. I was convinced my joints were now better “oiled.” New research says there may be something to this.
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Women who ate the
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