Omega-3 supplementation and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis

J Hepatol. 2012 Apr;56(4):944-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2011.08.018. Epub 2011 Oct 21.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a frequent accompaniment of obesity and insulin resistance. With the prevalence approaching 85% in obese populations, new therapeutic approaches to manage NAFLD are warranted. A systematic search of the literature was conducted for studies pertaining to the effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) supplementation on NAFLD in humans. Primary outcome measures were liver fat and liver function tests: alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase [1]. Data were pooled and meta-analyses conducted using a random effects model. Nine eligible studies, involving 355 individuals given either omega-3 PUFA or control treatment were included. Beneficial changes in liver fat favoured PUFA treatment (effect size=-0.97, 95% CI: -0.58 to -1.35, p<0.001). A benefit of PUFA vs. control was also observed for AST (effect size=-0.97, 95% CI: -0.13 to -1.82, p=0.02). There was a trend towards favouring PUFA treatment on ALT but this was not significant (effect size=-0.56, 95% CI: -1.16 to 0.03, p=0.06). Sub-analyses of only randomised control trials (RCTs) showed a significant benefit for PUFA vs. control on liver fat (effect size=-0.96, 95% CI: -0.43 to -1.48, p<0.001), but not for ALT (p=0.74) or AST (p=0.28). There was significant heterogeneity between studies. The pooled data suggest that omega-3 PUFA supplementation may decrease liver fat, however, the optimal dose is currently not known. Well designed RCTs which quantify the magnitude of effect of omega-3 PUFA supplementation on liver fat are needed.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alanine Transaminase / blood
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases / blood
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use*
  • Fatty Liver / drug therapy*
  • Fatty Liver / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Male
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases
  • Alanine Transaminase