Aims/hypothesis: The effect of n-3 fatty acid treatment on vibration perception thresholds (VPTs) and cutaneous microvascular reactivity is not known. We tested whether: (1) a 15-18 month treatment with high dose (4 g/day) docosahexaenoic (DHA) plus eicosapentaenoic (EPA) acid improved VPT and microvascular reactivity in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; and (2) there are associations between VPT, microvascular reactivity and metabolic variables.
Methods: In the completed single centre, randomised, parallel group, placebo controlled Wessex Evaluation of fatty Liver and Cardiovascular markers in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with OMacor thErapy (WELCOME) trial, we tested the effect of DHA+EPA on VPT at 125 Hz (big toe) and the cutaneous hyperaemic response (forearm) to arterial occlusion (ratio of maximum to resting blood flux [MF/RF]). Allocation and dispensing was carried out by an independent research pharmacist; all participants and research team members were blinded to group assignment.
Results: In all, 51 and 49 patients were randomised to placebo and DHA+EPA, respectively (mean age 51.4 years). Of these, 32 had type 2 diabetes. Forty-six (placebo) and 47 (DHA+EPA) patients completed the study; there were no important adverse (or unexpected) effects or side effects. In multivariable-adjusted regression models (intention-to-treat analyses), DHA+EPA treatment was associated with an increase in VPT (β coefficient 1.49 [95% CI 0.04, 2.94], p = 0.04). For VPT, the adjusted mean differences (95% CIs) in the placebo and DHA+EPA treatment groups were -0.725 (-1.71, 0.25) and 0.767 (-0.21, 1.75) m/s(2), respectively. With DHA+EPA treatment, there was no change in MF/RF (β coefficient 0.07 [95% CI -0.56, 0.70], p = 0.84), the adjusted mean differences (95% CIs) in the placebo and DHA+EPA treatment groups were -0.549 (-1.03, -0.07) and -0.295 (-0.77, 0.18) respectively. VPT was independently associated with age (β coefficient 0.019 [95% CI 0.010, 0.029], p < 0.0001) and MF/RF (β coefficient -0.074 [95% CI -0.132, -0.016], p = 0.013), but not with diabetes (p = 0.38).
Conclusions/interpretation: High dose n-3 fatty acid treatment did not improve measures of microvascular function or vibration perception. Ageing and microvascular reactivity are associated with a measure of peripheral nerve function.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00760513.
Funding: The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research UK and Diabetes UK.