Omega-3 and metabolism: DHA may reduce risk of metabolic conditions, study suggests

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Omega-3 and metabolism: DHA may reduce risk of metabolic conditions, study suggests

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acids Nutrition

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially in the form of DHA, may be of ‘significant value’ in reducing the risk of metabolic conditions including fatty liver disease, according to new research.

The new metabolomic data, published in PLoS One, suggests that the metabolic effects of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may be even wider than previously considered – finding that supplementation with DHA to be associated with a whole range of ‘unexpected’ metabolic benefits.

Led by Professor Donald Jump of Oregon State University in the US, the study is 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 – to explore the effects of omega-3 supplementation.

The team found that supplements of DHA, used at levels that are generally recommended for cardiovascular benefits, had unanticipated benefits on other metabolic systems including vitamin and carbohydrate metabolism, protein and amino acid function, as well as lipid metabolism.

"We were shocked to find so many biological pathways being affected by omega-3 fatty acids,"​ said Jump. "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.”

Supplementation with DHA was also found to partially or totally prevent metabolic damage through these pathways – which are often linked to the Western diet and excessive consumption of red meat, sugar, saturated fat and processed grains, said the team.

Study details

The metabolomic study was performed in mice using levels of DHA supplementation that would equate to about 2-4 grams per day for an average person.

Based on the team’s previous findings that supplementation with DHA is associated with a reversal of risk factors associated with the Western type diet, Jump and his team used a global non-targeted metabolomic approach to quantify diet-induced changes in hepatic metabolism in the mice after supplementation with DHA.

Livers from mice fed a Western Diet plus olive oil (WD + O) were found to have gene expression features consistent with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), said the team.

In addition a metabolomic analysis of 320 metabolites established that the WD and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) supplementation “had broad effects on all major metabolic pathways.”

Indeed, the team suggested that the capacity of dietary omega-3 PUFAs to lower hepatic sphingomyelin, saturated fatty acids (SFA), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and omega-6 PUFA as well as lower hepatic nuclear abundance of NFκB, “can explain many of the effects of omega-3 PUFA on NASH-linked inflammation.”

“The EPA and DHA containing diets increased the formation of several oxidized lipids that may be hepatoprotective (epoxy- and/or di-hydroxy-fatty acid derivatives of EPA and DHA),”​ said the team.

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Source: PLoS One
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083756
“A Metabolomic Analysis of Omega-3 Fatty Acid-Mediated Attenuation of Western Diet-Induced Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis in LDLR-/-​ Mice”
Authors: Christopher M. Depner, Maret G. Traber, Gerd Bobe, Elizabeth Kensicki, Kurt M. Bohren, Ginger Milne, Donald B. Jump

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