Liver protection is now among the reasons to eat or supplement with omega-3 fatty acids. While this is great news for those with liver disease, make sure you know about the cautions associated with this supposedly healthy oil.
Those interested in dietary approaches to support their health likely know about several of the claims associated with omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to their traditionally touted benefits, new research adds liver protection to the long list of reasons for ingesting dietary supplements or foods rich in omega-3’s. However, there are several caveats that people with liver concerns must be aware of before they jump on the omega-3 fatty acid band wagon.
Although these oils cannot be manufactured by the body, omega-3 fatty acids are essential to human health. Primarily obtained from food, omega-3’s are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and halibut, other marine life such as algae and krill and certain plants and nut oils. The best fish sources are believed to be mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon, while the best plant sources include soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed.
There are three major types of omega-3 fatty acids that are ingested and used by the body:
· alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
· eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
· docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Once eaten, the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used.
Omega-3 Health Benefits
Extensive research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids have an array of health benefits. Five of the more well-known uses for omega-3’s include:
1. High Cholesterol – Fish oil supplements containing EPA and DHA have been reported in several large clinical studies to reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
2. High Blood Pressure – Several clinical studies suggest that diets or supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids significantly lower blood pressure in individuals with hypertension.
3. Heart Disease – Clinical evidence suggests that EPA and DHA found in fish oil help reduce risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol and high blood pressure. There is also strong evidence that these substances can help prevent and treat atherosclerosis by inhibiting the development of plaque and blood clots, each of which tends to clog arteries.
4. Arthritis – Several studies have found that omega-3’s help arthritis by reducing inflammation and joint tenderness while simultaneously decreasing stiffness.
5. Depression – Found to help ease depression, omega-3 fatty acids are important components of nerve cell membranes. They help nerve cells communicate with each other, which is an essential step in maintaining good mental health.
Omega-3’s and Liver Protection
In addition to the benefits described above, new research makes a case for omega-3’s usefulness in protecting the liver. According to a recent Spanish study, diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may protect the liver from damage caused by obesity and the insulin resistance it provokes.
“Our study shows for the first time that lipids called protectins and resolvins derived from omega-3 fatty acids can actually reduce the instance of liver complications, such as hepatic steatosis and insulin resistance, in obese people,” stated Joan Claria, a professor from the University of Barcelona and one of the researchers involved in the work.
Although the study has not yet been conducted in humans, it demonstrates a potential way for those with liver disease to prevent a worsening of their condition.
Cautions of Omega-3’s
Although loading up on omega-3 fatty acids to reap all of this oil’s benefits may seem like a good idea, there are several reasons to be careful.
· Blood-Thinner – Since omega-3’s thin the blood, they must be used cautiously by those who bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder or take blood-thinning medications. People who eat more than three grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (equivalent to 3 servings of fish per day) may be at an increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a potentially fatal condition.
· Digestion – In certain individuals, fish oil can cause flatulence, bloating, belching and diarrhea. However, time-release preparations may reduce these side effects.
· Diabetes – Those with type 2 diabetes may experience increases in fasting blood sugar levels while taking fish oil supplements. Thus, fish oil supplements should only be taken by someone with type 2 diabetes under the supervision of a health care provider.
· Vitamin A – While fish oil is a great source of omega-3’s, it may also be high in vitamin A. Especially important for those already managing liver disease, excessive amounts of vitamin A are toxic to the liver. Thus, sources of omega-3’s without vitamin A (such as plant sources) are recommended for those with liver disease.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, supplements or foods rich in omega-3 supplements should only occur under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider. With the precautions in mind, omega-3’s can provide an amazing combination of benefits. Including omega-3 fatty acids in a daily routine cannot only support cardiovascular health, arthritis and depression, but it may also help someone who is obese or living with liver disease protect his or her liver from scarring or further fat accumulation.
http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/abstract/fj.08-125674v1, Obesity-induced insulin resistance and hepatic steatosis are alleviated by omega-3 fatty acids: a role for resolvins and protectins, Ana GonzÃ¡lez-PÃ©riz, et al, Retrieved May 3, 2009, The FASEB Journal, February 2009.
http://www.hcvadvocate.org/news/newsLetter/2009/advocate0509.html#5, Omega-3’s Protect Liver, Alan Franciscus, Retrieved May 3, 2009, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2009.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090212150842.htm, Omega-3 Fatty Acids Prevent Medical Complications Of Obesity, Study Suggests, Retrieved May 3, 2009, ScienceDaily LLC, February 2009.
http://www.thebody.com/content/art1890.html, Ask Dr. Brad, Brad Lichtenstein, ND, Retrieved May 3, 2009, The Body, Spring 2002.
http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Retrieved May 3, 2009, University of Maryland Medical Center, 2009.