Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids as a treatment strategy for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Pharmacol Ther. 2018 Jan;181:108-125. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2017.07.007. Epub 2017 Jul 16.


Obese and type 2 diabetic (T2DM) patients have a high prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is a continuum of chronic liver diseases ranging from benign hepatosteatosis to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), cirrhosis and primary hepatocellular cancer (HCC). Because of its strong association with the obesity epidemic, NAFLD is rapidly becoming a major public health concern worldwide. Surprisingly, there are no FDA approved NAFLD therapies; and current therapies focus on the co-morbidities associated with NAFLD, namely, obesity, hyperglycemia, dyslipidemia, and hypertension. The goal of this review is to provide background on the disease process, discuss human studies and preclinical models that have examined treatment options. We also provide an in-depth rationale for the use of dietary ω3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (ω3 PUFA) supplements as a treatment option for NAFLD. This focus is based on recent studies indicating that NASH patients and preclinical mouse models of NASH have low levels of hepatic C20-22 ω3 PUFA. This decline in hepatic PUFA may account for the major phenotypic features associated with NASH, including steatosis, inflammation and fibrosis. Finally, our discussion will address the strengths and limitations of ω3 PUFA supplements use in NAFLD therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Progression
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / diet therapy*


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3