A new study finds that one common supplement can achieve what no pharmaceutical company has been able to: stop life-threatening liver damage.
There is no drug treatment that can stop the progression of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). This is a buildup of fat in the liver. It often progresses to deadly health problems like cirrhosis or liver cancer.
NASH is approaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. About 30% of Americans are estimated to have some form of chronic fatty liver disease. It is often caused by a poor diet high in sugar and trans fats.1
Many NASH patients will eventually need a lifesaving liver transplant.
Researchers at Oregon State University put lab mice on a “western diet” high in bad fats and sugars. After 22 weeks, the mice developed NASH.
Some of the mice were then given a docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplement while continuing on the western diet. Eight weeks later, the researchers found “no evidence of NASH progression” in the mice taking DHA.
In other words, DHA stopped liver disease dead in its tracks.
The group that continued the western diet without the supplement showed worsening liver damage.2
Previous research has shown that exercise and a healthy diet can reverse liver disease. But as researchers pointed out in their study, patients often can’t—or won’t—make these lifestyle changes. And there are no medications that treat NASH.
Dr. Donald Jump is a nutrition professor at Oregon State University. He is lead author of the study. “Considering there are no FDA-approved ways to stop NASH progression…this supplement may be of significant help,” he said.3
“NASH is a serious disease, an enormous health care cost, and we need to put the brakes on it. There’s clear evidence this might help.”
How serious is NASH? It’s predicted to be the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020.
DHA: Secret to Beating Liver Disease
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in algae and fish that eat algae.
Previous research has found that NASH patients have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The new study shows that if you raise fatty acid levels, you can halt NASH.
Omega-3 fatty acids regulate the breakdown of triglycerides (fats) in the blood. This process plays a role in stopping and repairing liver damage, researchers say.
Your body can’t produce omega-3s. You need to get them from your diet or a supplement.4
Oily fish are loaded with DHA. Wild-caught salmon, northern Atlantic mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are great sources. If you eat them three days a week, you should get all the DHA you need.
Other foods with DHA include grass-fed beef liver, pastured egg yolks, raw walnuts, and flaxseed.
The most consistent way to get DHA may be through a supplement. Look for an algae-based supplement that gives you 600-1,000 mg of DHA a day.
In its early stages, liver disease has no symptoms. So patients often don’t know they have it until their liver is severely damaged. Protect yourself by making sure you get enough DHA.5