Does Omega 3 Fatty Acids help in Weight Loss? (2021)
Did you know that obesity and insulin resistance are interrelated? Obesity is the leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes which occurs when the body doesn’t regulate and use sugar (glucose) as it should. When this impairment occurs there are two primary problems at work –– the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin and cell receptors don’t respond well to the insulin that is released. Insulin is a common factor in both problems, and the result is chronically high blood sugar levels.
Let’s take a quick look at how insulin works:
Insulin is a hormone that plays a substantial role in the management of blood sugar levels. After eating a meal, carbohydrates and sugars are broken down into glucose to be absorbed into our blood. Insulin is then secreted to take up glucose and stabilize blood sugar levels. Excess glucose is stored as fatty acids that can be used as energy later on. This mechanism is required to maintain stable blood sugar levels, however, it can be impaired by the presence of too much fat.
Fat Blocks Insulin Signaling
Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet is very high in carbohydrates, added sugars, and fats. Americans tend to eat too many refined carbs and sugars and, as we just discussed, the excess energy is stored as fat. Before we discuss how fat blocks insulin signaling, let’s dive a little deeper into why refined carbohydrates contribute to the storage of additional fat.
Firstly, sugars are the building blocks of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates and larger sugar molecules are too big to be absorbed into the bloodstream, so they are broken down into single sugar units –– glucose or fructose. Other nutrients in a food, such as fiber and protein, can slow the digestion of carbohydrates and sugars. For example, anything made with white sugar or flour has been refined. What does refinement do to grains and sugars? It strips grains of the bran and germ, removing dietary fiber and B vitamins. Our body breaks these refined grains and sugars down and absorbs them faster since there is no fiber to slow digestion, leading to a spike in blood sugar. Some of this glucose will be absorbed and stored as glycogen, but the rest will be converted to fat.
In the case of diabetics, their insulin response is impaired, so they can not absorb glucose properly. For Weight Loss In General and in those with T2DM, it’s important to consume carbohydrates from foods such as sweet potatoes, whole grains, whole fruits, and beans which allow for slower digestion due to their fiber and protein content. In this case, the release of glucose into the bloodstream is more slow and steady –– there is no spike –– and you will stay fuller for longer.
Excess fat is dangerous for insulin sensitivity. When it builds up inside our muscle cells it can break down to create free radicals that block the insulin signaling process leading to insulin resistance, which makes it difficult for cells to respond to insulin (1). As a result, glucose is unable to enter cells and begins to build up in the blood. When there is too much glucose in the blood, it is called hyperglycemia. If this persists for a long period of time, hyperglycemia can damage blood vessels that supply blood to organs and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, and nerve problems (2). If still untreated, a very severe form of hyperglycemia, called diabetic ketoacidosis, occurs. In this case, the body is unable to use glucose as fuel and instead breaks down fat which releases ketones into the blood. Accumulation of ketones in the blood makes it more acidic and can lead to coma or death.
Omega-3’s Can Help
Conversely, just as your diet can block insulin signaling, it can alternately help you increase insulin response. Insulin resistance can be characterized as a metabolic dysfunction that is often mediated by inflammation via dietary fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory molecules (3). Consuming omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity. These healthy fats are found in olive oil and salmon, two main foods in the Mediterranean Diet.
In a randomized control trial, children who were overweight and insulin-resistant were randomly assigned to receive 900mg of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated amino acids or a placebo for one month. It was found that the omega-3 fatty acid group decreased fasting insulin as well as HOMA-IR, which is a measure of insulin resistance–IR (4). These are promising results as low HOMA-IR means you are sensitive to insulin, a result of insulin receptors at work.
An additional study evaluated an 8-week dietary intervention where 4 groups of young overweight individuals followed diets with lean fish, fatty fish, fish oil, or no fish, all else equal. The outcome from the group on the fish oil diet showed reduced fasting insulin and improved HOMA-IR to a significantly greater extent than the control diet of no seafood (5). Similar to the study discussed above, these results show that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to increasing insulin sensitivity.
The Bottom Line
Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, like those found in Olive Oil, can help increase insulin sensitivity, making them a great addition to a healthy diet. Furthermore, losing weight, eating well, and exercising can help insulin receptors function at their highest capacity, resulting in improved insulin control.
If you liked this article, read about the Weight Loss Properties Of Fatty Acids In Olive Oil.
To add more omega 3-fatty acids to your diet, check out our Recipe Page.
Written by Megan Huff
Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio.