Fish oil may not be as healthful as you think, study finds

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Fish oil is hailed for its plentiful health benefits. But new research suggests that the long-term consumption of fish oil or sunflower oil may increase the risk of fatty liver disease later in life.
By studying rats, researchers found that lifelong intake of sunflower oil or fish oil led to changes in the liver that make the organ vulnerable to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

NASH is a more serious form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Study co-author José Luis Quiles, a professor of physiology working at the University of Granada in Spain, and colleagues recently reported their findings in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

It is estimated that around 20 percent of people in the United States who have NAFLD also have NASH, and the condition becomes more common with age.

NASH is characterized by a buildup of fat in the liver — which is not caused by alcohol consumption — inflammation, and liver cell damage. The liver damage that occurs in NASH can increase the risk of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Some of the key risk factors for NASH include overweight and obesityhigh blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes, which are factors heavily influenced by diet.

Studying how dietary fats affect the liver

Building on the link between diet and NASH, the new study from Prof. Quiles and his colleagues suggests that the type of oils we consume could play a role in our later-life risk of the condition.

The researchers came to their findings by analyzing the effects of different dietary fats, including sunflower oil, fish oil, and virgin olive oil, on rat livers.

In detail, the team looked at how lifelong intake of each of these oils impacted the structure of the rodents’ livers, as well as their effects on gene expression, liver fibrosis (or scarring), oxidative stress, and the length of telomeres.

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