Omega-3 for Fatty Liver

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

Fatty liver disease is one of the most common complications of diabetes. About 50 to 70 percent of those of us who have diabetes may have this potentially dangerous complication. But now we may have a way to treat it and stopping it from progressing to liver failure.

The first time I wrote about fatty liver was in 2005 when I had it myself. Fortunately, I have since been able to reverse it with diet and exercise.

My late wife Catherine wasn't so fortunate. Her fatty liver progressed to liver failure, which led to her death in early 2007.

Catherine had type 2 diabetes and was seriously overweight, and neither of us knew at the time that this is the cause of most cirrhosis of the liver. We had always assumed that drinking too much alcohol was the cause -- but she never drank any.

Since then I've learned a lot about the dangers and other causes of fatty liver disease. Just recently, in fact, Swedish researchers reported that people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease have a higher overall mortality rate compared with the general population.

Israeli researchers reported in 2009 that drinking too much sweetened soda or too much fruit juice can cause fatty liver. They reported that people who drink more than about four cups daily of sweetened drinks were five times more likely to get a fatty liver. Sweetened sodas and natural fruit juices have a lot of sucrose (table sugar) or high-fructose corn syrup -- and it doesn't matter which, because both of them are about half glucose and half fructose. While we burn off the glucose quickly or store it in our brains and muscles, we process fructose through our liver, where the excess gets converted into fat in the cells of our liver. Too late we learned that exercise and avoiding fructose might have prevented Catherine's death. I wrote about "Fatty Liver and Exercise" in 2008 and "A Short Walk Goes a Long Way" in 2009. I wrote about "The Trouble with Fructose" in 2007 and "More Trouble with Fructose" in 2008.

Now, we may have another way to reverse a fatty liver. This good news comes in a preliminary review article, "Omega-3 fatty acids -- a promising novel therapy for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)." Dr. Gail Masterton and two colleagues in Scotland's University of Edinburgh just published this review in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. "Omega-3 fatty acids have proven benefits for hyperlipidaemia and cardiovascular disease," they write, "and have recently been suggested as a treatment for NAFLD." So they reviewed the evidence for omega-3 fatty acids in fatty liver disease and critically appraised the literature relating to human trials. While "clinical trials in human subjects generally confirm these findings," they nevertheless have significant design inadequacies.

As usual, they found that we need more studies. But, their conclusion was that, "Omega-3 fatty acids are a promising treatment for NAFLD."

My conclusion is "Why not?" After all, we already knew that increasing our omega-3 -- and our balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats -- is something we need to do anyway. Just like getting more exercise may well be good for reversing fatty liver and much more, we damn well know that omega-3 is also good for lots more.

Ever here of "twofers"? One dictionary defines it as, "An offer, a deal, or an arrangement in which a single expense yields a dual return." Omega-3, exercise, and avoiding fructose are -- to coin a term -- "Multifers."

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.