Omega 3s versus Obesity and Insulin Resistance


“Obesity is associated with the metabolic syndrome, a significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Chronic low-grade inflammation occurring in the adipose tissue of obese individuals is causally linked to the pathogenesis of insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome (a precursor to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease),” according to research – “Omega (n-3) Fatty Acids Alleviate Adipose Tissue Inflammation and Insulin Resistance: Mechanistic Insights” – which appeared in Advances in Nutrition in July of 2011.

This research notes the following information: “Obesity is associated with a chronic low-grade inflammation in the adipose tissue. Adipose tissue secretes numerous bioactive peptides collectively known as adipokines. Adipose tissue is a dynamic endocrine organ with major roles in energy balance, glucose homeostasis, blood pressure regulation, and immune function.”

Here is what this research paper notes about insulin resistance: “Insulin resistance is defined as an inadequate response by insulin-sensitive tissues (liver, skeletal muscle, and adipose tissue) to normal circulating levels of insulin. At physiological levels, insulin inhibits hepatic glucose production, promotes skeletal muscle glucose uptake, and inhibits lipolysis (breakdown of fat).” “Insulin resistance leads to impairments in insulin-mediated suppression of hepatic glucose production, skeletal muscle glucose disposal, and inhibition of lipolysis, leading to relative hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar) and increased plasma levels of FFA (free fatty acids).” “In response to the relative hyperglycemia, there is a compensatory response by the pancreatic β-cells, which secrete more insulin. This hypersecretion of insulin in turn increases skeletal muscle glucose uptake and inhibits hepatic glucose production to maintain normoglycemia (normal blood sugar).” “Thus, insulin-resistant individuals maintain normoglycemia through overproduction and secretion of higher insulin levels. Long-term insulin resistance and hypersecretion of insulin eventually leads to pancreatic β-cell failure. These events result initially in prediabetes and glucose intolerance and later progress to hyperglycemia and type- 2 diabetes.

Now, here is where the essential Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) found in sources such as cold-water fish like salmon and sardines and fish oil supplements can effect positive change with obesity and its potential for inflammation and insulin resistance. The researchers state that, “EPA and DHA reduce adiposity in humans especially when combined with energy restriction. Fish oil also increases fatty acid oxidation in humans with a reduction in respiratory quotient (which means more fat is utilized as energy). Second, they are known to inhibit hepatic lipogenesis (making of fat). Both these processes shift the balance of fatty acid metabolism toward oxidation (burning) rather than storage.” Finally, the researchers conclude that, “Further studies in obese humans are warranted to study whether these fatty acids can prevent and reverse the progression of metabolic syndrome to type 2 diabetes.”

In the mean time, it makes sense to consider including at least two servings of cold-water fish in your diet each week. Or, consider supplementing with a high quality fish oil supplement with the recommendation for the combined amounts of EPA & DHA to be based on your current health profile and the advice of your personal physician.

Interested in reading more? Check out 5 Health Benefits of Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6