Omega-3 fatty acids are often associated with many health benefits, including lowering triglyceride (a type of fat) levels in the blood, protection from heart disease, dementia, depression, and many more. In addition, recent research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in preventing chronic liver disease.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These fatty acids are considered essential nutrients that one needs to obtain from the diet to maintain health. There are 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids involved in human function, which are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA, docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, and α-linolenic acid or ALA. ALA is a short chain fatty acid that is derived from plant sources such as flaxseed oil and hemp oil. DHA and EPA are long-chain fatty acids that are found mostly from animal sources such as fatty fish.
Research provides evidence that omega-3 FA help reduce inflammation and may lower one’s risk of chronic disease such as arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. They are also found in high concentrations in your brain and play an important role in mental performance as well as behavioral function. A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids may manifest as poor memory, dry skin, fatigue, mood swings, depression, heart problems, and poor circulation.
Another type of fatty acids that is often found in the diet are omega-6 fatty acids. In contrast to omega-3, these fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids, which when taken in large amounts, can cause inflammation and lead to negative health effects.
The Possible Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Liver Disease
Recent research suggests that omega-3 may have a protective effect on the liver, just as it has been found to protect heart health. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that dietary DHA may help fight against nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) in obese people. Obese individuals have an increased risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) due to accumulation of excess fat in the liver. This may result in chronic inflammation, leading to NASH. This is a progressive condition that damages the liver, causing fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis (shrinkage) and liver cancer.
According to American Liver Foundation, about 25% of the population have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In addition, most obese individuals (75%) also have the disease, which represents the early stage of a more serious type of chronic liver disease (NASH).
An experiment on fattened mice which were fed a Western-style diet showed that supplementing their diets with DHA was effective in preventing liver damage related to fatty liver disease. They did not observe the same effects with EPA supplements or olive oil. Principal investigator Donald Jump, professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at the Oregon State University, concluded that based on their findings, DHA may be a better dietary supplement than EPA for preventing and possibly treating NASH in obese people. More clinical trials have to be conducted to confirm these results.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and a Healthy Diet
Your liver is a vital organ and just like the heart and lungs, it is important to support life. The main function of the liver is to filter the circulating blood passing from the digestive tract, before it circulates to the rest of your body. It also metabolizes drugs and detoxifies the body of harmful chemicals. The liver also stores energy and synthesizes proteins needed for many functions such as blood clotting. It also secretes bile that goes back into the intestines and aids in digestion.
Health experts recommend eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods to maintain health. To prevent chronic disease such as liver disease, particularly NAFLD, doctors also recommend losing excess weight and body fat. One way to do this is to stick to a low calorie diet that includes healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids. These may be found in fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, and halibut.
Detoxifying the liver from unhealthy substances such as omega-6 fatty acids, alcohol, drugs, and artificial food additives is another way to promote liver health. This can be achieved by avoiding the consumption of a conventional Western-style diet that includes a lot of saturated fats, added sugars and food additives. Shifting to a Mediterranean style-diet, on the other hand, which includes a lot of nutrient dense fruits and vegetables and omega-3 rich nuts, fish and other sea foods, will help prevent liver disease as well as other chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. In a natural liver detox diet, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, processed foods and drugs are not allowed.
Experts also warn against using some dietary supplements and herbal remedies that can harm the liver. These include ephedra, cascara, comfrey, chaparral, kava kava. Some manufacturers claim that certain herbs and health supplements can restore liver health, such as milk thistle, chanca piedra, and borotutu bark. However, according to liver experts like Dr. Ray Chung, of the Liver Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, there is a lack of sufficient evidence that these supplements promote liver health and some of these may even harm the liver.
University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega-3 fatty acids | University of Maryland Medical Center
Oregon State University. Some omega-3 oils better than others for protection against liver disease