Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids mediate the inverse association of stearoyl-CoA desaturase activity with the risk of fatty liver in dyslipidaemic individuals

Eur J Nutr. 2019 Jun;58(4):1561-1568. doi: 10.1007/s00394-018-1691-4. Epub 2018 Apr 19.


Purpose: The activity of stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 (SCD1) is increased in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) inhibit SCD1, but clinical studies on whether all dietary PUFA species are equal in SCD1 inhibition are scarce. Serum phospholipids are an objective proxy of dietary intake of plant-derived PUFA (C18:2n-6, C18:3n-3) and marine-derived PUFA (C20:5n-3, C22:6n-3). In 355 participants with primary dyslipidemia, we cross-sectionally investigated whether the presumed association between surrogate markers of NAFLD and SCD1 activity is mediated by intake of PUFA, and, if it is, what PUFA species are relevant in this regard.

Methods: We determined the fatty acid profile of serum phospholipids by gas chromatography, and used the ratio C16:1n-7/C16:0 as a marker of SCD1 activity. NAFLD was diagnosed by values ≥ 60 in the fatty liver index (FLI), a surrogate recently validated against ultrasonography.

Results: FLI ≥ 60 was detected in 37.5% (n = 133) of study participants. In a multivariate model, SCD1 activity showed an expected significant association with the risk of NAFLD, with odds ratio (OR) (95% confidence interval) of 1.44 (1.04-2.01) for each 0.01 increase. In a model further allowing the stepwise inclusion of plant-derived PUFA, marine-derived PUFA, and total PUFA (vegetable + marine), total PUFA replaced SCD1 activity as a significant (inverse) association of NAFLD, with OR 0.89 (0.81-0.99).

Conclusions: Total PUFA, regardless of their origin, mediates the relationship between SCD1 activity and NAFLD. This provides a new insight in the protective effects of PUFA against NAFLD, heretofore mostly focussed on PUFA species from marine origin.

Keywords: Alpha-linolenic acid; Docosahexaenoic acid; Eicosapentaenoic acid; Linolenic acid; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; Stearoyl-CoA desaturase.

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / methods*
  • Dyslipidemias / complications*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / complications*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / metabolism*
  • Risk
  • Stearoyl-CoA Desaturase / metabolism*


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Stearoyl-CoA Desaturase