Fish oil counteracts serious and widespread liver diseases
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) that is linked to overweight and type 2 diabetes may eventually cause critical liver inflammation, liver fibrosis, and liver cancer. The diet plays a major role, and scientists from Oregon State University have observed that the omega-3 fatty acids that we get from oily fish are able to fight this harmful liver condition. This has enormous therapeutic value because there are currently no available therapies. It is also important to avoid altogether or limit your intake of refined carbohydrates and refined omega-6 fatty acids from plant oil.
Refined Western diets are to blame for the fact that around 25 percent of the world population has developed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – often without being aware of it. NAFLD can turn into a complicated liver inflammation called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) that causes scarring (fibrosis) of the liver tissue. NASH also increases the risk of liver failure, cirrhosis, and primary liver cancer.
Both non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis are linked to metabolic syndrome that involves elevated levels of triglycerides and HDL (high-density lipoprotein), insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure, and overweight (apple shaped body). Metabolic syndrome is an early stage of type 2 diabetes, and the leading cause of death among people with this condition is cardiovascular disease.
Metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis are characterized by liver disturbances that grow worse over time. Also, there are dysfunctions of a specific type of liver cells (hepatic stellate cells) that are involved in liver fibrosis.
The metabolic disturbances are typically a result of eating a diet with too many refined carbohydrates, which turns the liver into a virtual fat factory. Our Western diet also contains far too much omega-6 from refined plant oils and ready meals, and this increases the risk of chronic low-grade inflammation. Apparently, being deficient in omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish and fish oil supplements can speed up the metabolic disturbances and the dangerous chronic inflammation.
Omega-3 blocks a protein that is involved in inflammation and fibrosis
Studies have shown that patients with NASH have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their diseased livers compared with people who have healthy livers. The scientists behind the new study, which is published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, hypothesized that omega-3 supplementation could improve liver function. In their study, the researchers used a biological analysis approach called multi-omic, which showed how omega-3 fatty acids affect molecular pathways in mice were given a Western-type diet and developed early stages of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis as a result of that. Since non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is also a precursor of primary liver cancer, the scientists conducted a meta-analysis of human liver cancer cells.
By using the different analytical methods, they discovered for the first time that a key protein called beta-cellulin is upregulated in liver cancer cells and downregulated with help from the omega-3 fatty acid DHA in animals and humans with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
Beta-cellulin appears to be involved in the pathogenesis of the hepatic stellate cells of the liver through the introduction of a growth factor called β2. Beta-cellulin also activates the white blood cells (macrophages), thereby causing critical liver inflammation.
Based on all these observations, the scientists conclude that the ability of omega-3 fatty acids to downregulate beta-cellulin is one of the key factors in preventing morbid inflammation and fibrosis in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
Omega-3 fatty acids also seem to improve the liver cells’ mitochondria, which are the small powerhouses that generate energy.
Oily fish and fish oil supplements have a high content of the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which are also found in our cell membranes where they carry out numerous physiological functions. According to the new study, DHA is more effective than EPA with regard to fighting inflammation and regenerating the liver.
How do we get enough omega-3?
Health authorities recommend getting at least 200 grams of oily fish per week. There is around three grams of omega-3 in a 100-gram serving of herring, mackerel, and wild salmon. International experts recommend daily intake of 2-4 grams of omega-3 for intensive support of the body to help it fight chronic inflammation. People who don’t like fish or eat too little of it can choose to take a high-quality fish oil supplement, instead.
- Did you know that foie gras is essentially the same as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is made from the livers of ducks or geese that have been force-fed with corn and plant oil to enlarge their livers. The animals get loads of carbohydrates (mainly fructose) and omega-6 that damage the liver.
Jyothi Padiapu et al. Multi-omic network analysis identified betacellulin as a novel target of omega-3 fatty acid attenuation of western diet-induces nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. EMBO Molecular Medicine. 2023
Steve Lundberg. Oregon State Researchers uncover mechanism for treating dangerous liver condition. Oregon State University Newsroom. 2023
Anne-Marie Chalmers. How Much Omega-3 Per Day Should I Take? Omega-3 Innovations. 2020
Philip C. Calder. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes. Nutrients 2010
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