It has been reported that intake of (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and decreases biliary cholesterol saturation in the bile of gallstone patients.

We investigated the effect of n-3 PUFA on cholesterol saturation index (CSI) and nucleation time (NT) in obese subjects who were losing weight. This was a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

Obese women (n = 35) with a body mass index (BMI) 30 kg/m2, with no prior history of gallstones or cholecystectomy by ultrasound were first studied to ensure absence of stones or biliary sludge. The women were then assigned to a hypocaloric regimen [5.02 MJ (1200 kcal)/d] and to receive 1200 mg/d of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), 11.3 g/d of (n-3) PUFA or a placebo for 6 wk. BMI, CSI and NT were recorded at baseline and at the end of the experimental period.

BMI decreased 5.75 ± 2.7%/mo (range, 1.5±12.42%/MO) during the experiment. The CSI did not change in any of the groups. Cholesterol NT decreased significantly in the UDCA and placebo groups, but not in the (n-3) PUFA group. None of the women had developed gallstones at 6 wk.

These results suggest that (n-3) PUFA maintain the CSI and NT in obese women during rapid weight loss, which probably results in the prevention of cholesterol gallstone formation.