Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Hepatic Lipid Metabolism, and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Annu Rev Nutr. 2013;33:231-48. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-071812-161230.


Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids belong to a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are known to have important beneficial effects on metabolism and inflammation. Such effects may confer a benefit in specific chronic noncommunicable diseases that are becoming very prevalent in Westernized societies [e.g., nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)]. Typically, with a Westernized diet, long-chain omega-6 fatty acid consumption is markedly greater than omega-3 fatty acid consumption. The potential consequences of an alteration in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid consumption are increased production of proinflammatory arachidonic acid-derived eicosanoids and impaired regulation of hepatic and adipose function, predisposing to NAFLD. NAFLD represents a spectrum of liver fat-related conditions that originates with ectopic fat accumulation in liver (hepatic steatosis) and progresses, with the development of hepatic inflammation and fibrosis, to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). If the adipose tissue is inflamed with widespread macrophage infiltration, the production of adipokines may act to exacerbate liver inflammation and NASH. Omega-3 fatty acid treatment may have beneficial effects in regulating hepatic lipid metabolism, adipose tissue function, and inflammation. Recent studies testing the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in NAFLD are showing promise and suggesting that these fatty acids may be useful in the treatment of NAFLD. To date, further research is needed in NAFLD to (a) establish the dose of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids as a treatment, (b) determine the duration of therapy, and (c) test whether there is benefit on the different component features of NAFLD (hepatic fat, inflammation, and fibrosis).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / immunology
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / adverse effects
  • Enterohepatic Circulation
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / metabolism
  • Fatty Liver / diet therapy
  • Fatty Liver / etiology
  • Fatty Liver / immunology
  • Fatty Liver / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Liver / immunology
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6