Omega-3 fatty acids: Mechanisms of benefit and therapeutic effects in pediatric and adult NAFLD

Author: Anna Alisi, Giovanni Musso, Eleonora Scorletti, Philip C. Calder & Christopher D. Byrne
Source: Critical Reviews in Laboratory Science Pages 106-120 | Received 22 May 2015, Accepted 16 Aug 2015, Published online: 14 Oct 2015
Publication Date: Pages 106-120 | Received 22 May 2015, Accepted 16 Aug 2015, Published online: 14 Oct 2015

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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is currently considered the most common liver disease in industrialized countries, and it is estimated that it will become the most frequent indication for liver transplantation in the next decade. NAFLD may be associated with moderate (i.e. steatosis) to severe (i.e. steatohepatitis and fibrosis) liver damage and affects all age groups. Furthermore, subjects with NAFLD may be at a greater risk of other obesity-related complications later in life, and people with obesity and obesity-related complications (e.g. metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) are at increased risk of developing NAFLD. To date, there is no licensed treatment for NAFLD and therapy has been mainly centered on weight loss and increased physical activity. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for patients to adhere to the advised lifestyle changes. Therefore, based on the known pathogenesis of NAFLD, several clinical trials with different nutritional supplementation and prescribed drugs have been undertaken or are currently underway. Experimental evidence has emerged about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of health-related functions. Omega-3 fatty acids are present in some foods (oils, nuts and seeds) that also contain omega-6 fatty acids, and the best sources of exclusively omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish, krill oil and algae. In this review, we provide a brief overview of the pathogenesis of NAFLD, and we also discuss the molecular and clinical evidence for the benefits of different omega-3 fatty acid preparations in NAFLD.