A particular omega-3 fatty acid has been found to be a powerful weapon against liver inflammation and fibrosis, which are becoming increasingly common as the number of overweight Americans continues to rise.
Researchers at Oregon State University have found that the omega-3 acid known as DHA — short for docosahexaenoic acid — reduces proteins involved in the development of liver fibrosis by more than 65 percent and, as a result, may be a potent weapon in the prevention of the disease. A second type of omega-3 — EPA, short for eicosapentaenoic acid — had comparatively little effect on preventing the fibrosis, or scarring.
The study, published online in the Journal of Nutrition, involved laboratory research on animals but has significant implications for humans, said researcher Donald Jump, with the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU and a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
"A reduction of that magnitude in the actual scarring and damage to the liver is very important," said Jump.
"Many clinical trials are being done with omega-3 fatty acids related to liver disease. Our studies may represent the first to specifically compare the capacity of EPA versus DHA to prevent [liver disease]. It appears that DHA, which can also be converted to EPA in the human body, is one of the most valuable for this purpose."
The American Liver Foundation estimates that 25 percent of U.S. residents, and 75 percent of those who are obese, have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This early-stage health condition can progress to more serious, even fatal diseases, including nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, as well as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish, shellfish, plants, nut oils, flaxseed, algae oils, and fortified foods. They’re also available in fish oil and pill supplements. There are the two main types of omega-3 fatty acids: Long-chain omega-3 acids (DHA and EPA), found in fish and shellfish; and the short-chain omega-3 known as ALA (short for alpha-linolenic acid), contained in plant foods. ALA omega-3 fatty acids have less potent health benefits than EPA and DHA.
"Omega-3 fatty acids are typically recommended for the prevention of cardiovascular disease," Jump noted. "Recommended intake levels of omega-3 fatty acids in humans for disease prevention are around 200-500 milligrams of combined DHA and EPA per day."
The study was funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as well as the National Institutes of Health.
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