Impact of high dose n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid treatment on measures of microvascular function and vibration perception in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: results from the randomised WELCOME trial

Diabetologia. 2015 Aug;58(8):1916-25. doi: 10.1007/s00125-015-3628-2. Epub 2015 May 29.


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: NCT00760513.

Funding: The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research UK and Diabetes UK.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microvessels / drug effects*
  • Microvessels / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / complications
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / physiopathology*
  • Touch Perception / drug effects*
  • Vibration*


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3

Associated data