Research on omega-3 fatty acids and their effects on health began in the 1920s, and since then, researchers have continued to investigate these essential lipids and their effect on health. Scientists have done studies on animal and human physiological systems, considering health aspects such as mood, eye health, inflammation, and more.
Recently, with most modern societies gradually gaining weight across the board, scientists are investigating how omega-3s might support healthy weight levels as a factor in overall health, since excess body weight is associated with several chronic conditions.
Read on for more information about what omega 3s are, food sources that contain them, recent research, and how scientists believe omega 3s may help support a healthy body weight.
Benefits of Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Each person’s healthy weight differs based on several factors, including gender, age, body frame, medical history, and weight as a young adult. The bottom line for everyone is that maintaining a healthy weight has been shown to reduce the risk for many serious health concerns.
The medical community has noted markers such as weight, waist size, and how your weight today compares to what it was in your 20s, which indicate the likelihood of developing harmful physical conditions.
These conditions impact practically every system in the body, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Sugar metabolism
Research shows that keeping a healthy weight, even as we age, goes a long way toward avoiding many chronic health conditions.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids found widely in nature. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids involved with human metabolism:
ALA or A-linolenic Acid
ALA is found in plant sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds, edible seeds, and hemp seed oil. The body is incapable of synthesizing ALA.
EPA or Eicosapentaenoic Acid
EPA is found in algae and fish. The body can synthesize EPA from ALA, so it is not technically “essential.”
DHA or Docosahexaenoic Acid
DHA is also found in algae and fish. The body can also synthesize DHA from ALA, so it is not technically “essential.”
While the body can create EPA and DHA from ALA, the process is inefficient. Only 2-10% of ALA that enters the body converts to EPA and DHA.
The History of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Research
We tend to think of the interest in nutrients that support human health as a modern phenomenon, but the medical community’s interest in omega-3 fatty acids began as long ago as the 1920s. Two researchers noticed alleviation of deficiencies in rats fed a fat-free diet when they added fatty acids from lard.
Research continued over the years, and in the 1930s, scientists discovered that certain elements in fat were “essential,” meaning that animals could not synthesize enough of them within their bodies for optimum health. Until then, the thought was that fats were just a concentrated caloric source.
Research in the 1940s discounted earlier research, and the scientific community largely ignored omega-3 fatty acids during the 1950s and 1960s, although scientists made a few findings that fueled interest in the next decade.
Scientific activity surged in the 1970s, and this is where modern investigation into the effects of omega-3 fatty acids took off. Two researchers noted that Greenland Inuits had very few heart problems and determined that it was due to the high marine lipid content in the food they ate. Heart issues were more prevalent in populations with a more Western diet, even in a similar climate.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of all our cell membranes. They help provide structure and aid different cells in working together. They are concentrated the most in our cells, eyes, and brain. People add omega-3 foods or supplements to their diets for many reasons. Here are a few conditions that scientific studies have shown to respond positively to omega-3 supplementation. Most studies call for additional research.
- Mood improvement – A study of postmenopausal women showed that consuming omega-3 fatty acids positively affected mood.
- Eye health – A meta-analysis of 21 studies showed a lower risk of eye issues in those who consumed omega-3 fatty acids vs. those who did not.
- Cardiovascular health – A review of recent studies showed that omega-3 consumption may help reduce cardiovascular issues.
- Reduced inflammatory response– An evaluation of 32 meta-analyses concluded that omega-3 supplements may help with inflammatory responses.
- Improved cognition – A systematic review of studies on older subjects showed that omega-3 supplementation positively affected cognitive function.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Weight Management
Weight management is a persistent, complicated, and growing problem worldwide, and so far, there are no easy answers or miracle cures. The experts say overcoming the situation takes a multi-faceted approach, including nutritional adjustments and increased exercise. Studies on omega-3 fatty acids and weight management offer hope that these essential fats can be helpful in an overall weight management program.
5 Ways Omega-3s Help with Weight Management
Omega-3 fatty acids have many potential benefits in weight management, primarily when used as part of an overall lifestyle plan. Note that omega-3s are not a weight loss drug. They are nutritional supplements that may improve overall health and enhance your body’s ability to reduce fat and build muscle. The following research, in most cases, recommends further study.
1. Improved Satiety
One potential benefit of omega-3s is curbing appetite. A randomized control trial showed participants had higher levels of satiety (feeling full) two hours after a meal when they had higher levels of omega-3 intake. This effect may be most pronounced for people who are obese, as suggested by another study that found increased levels of fullness hormones in obese individuals after taking omega-3.
2. Omega-3 for Fat Loss
Omega-3s may decrease fat storage. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that omega-3s helped reduce waist circumference, even though body weight did not necessarily change. These observations suggest that weight from fat can be reduced with omega-3 supplementation, even though the actual figure on the scale might not change.
3. Improved Muscle Growth
How can you lose fat without losing weight? It may be a result of increased muscle mass. One study demonstrated this as participants who took more than 2g of omega-3s daily had somewhat higher muscle mass gain, boosting resting metabolic rate (RMR), so they burned more calories at rest.
The exact relationship between omega-3s and muscle mass still isn’t perfectly understood, but it does appear to play a role in building muscle.
4. Increased Metabolic Rate
Higher muscle mass can increase metabolic rate, which helps burn more calories. A 12-week study found that young adults had a 5.3% increase in their resting metabolic rate when consuming more than 3g of omega-3s daily, indicating an increased ability to burn more calories, even at rest.
5. Better Results from Exercise
Finally, omega-3s may positively impact the overall results of your exercise routine. This effect extends beyond simply losing fat, as suggested by one study in which volunteers consumed 6g of fish or sunflower oil. Those who took the fish oil had better body fat, cholesterol, and cardiovascular health results. These results indicate that omega-3s can help you get more out of your workouts, which is why many athletes take it as part of their routines.
Omega-3s & Healthy Weight Management FAQs
Some of the most common questions people ask regarding omega-3s & Healthy Weight Management include the following.
When should I take omega-3s for weight management?
Some evidence suggests that taking omega-3 supplements 30 minutes before eating or as part of a meal is most effective, especially if you’re eating something heavy.
Should I take omega-3s before or after a workout?
You can take omega-3s before or after working out. It takes time to get into your system, so taking it a little while before exercise is often preferred. Remember, it is part of a long-term health improvement strategy. However, since it may help reduce muscle pain, many athletes prefer to take it after working out to shorten recovery time.
Can omega-3 cause weight gain?
Omega-3s themselves don’t generally contribute toward weight gain. Lower-quality or rancid fish oil supplements may increase weight, which is why choosing a high-quality supplement with no toxic chemicals is essential.
What are the best sources of omega-3s?
There are two basic ways to consume more omega-3s; one does not preclude the other. You can select foods with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and you can take a supplement.
Fatty fish are the food sources that contain the most omega-3s. These include mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovy, whitefish, tuna, etc. Vegetarian sources include flax seeds, walnuts, and edamame. Remember that ALA conversion to EPA and DHA with vegetarian food sources is minimal.
How much Omega-3 do I need?
Talking with your healthcare provider before starting a supplementation regimen is always a good idea. A medical professional knows your health history and can recommend how much omega-3 you need to include in your diet.
The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) offers no guidelines for EPA and DHA, but they base their ALA consumption guidelines on age and gender. NAM recommends 1.6 g of ALA per day for adult men and 1.1 g per day for adult women. To put it into perspective, the American Heart Association recommends that healthy people eat at least two fish servings a week, a total of 6-8 ounces. If you do not like fish or find it challenging to get enough omega-3 from food, a supplement may be your best choice.
What are the risks of Omega-3 supplementation?
If you react to omega-3 supplementation, your symptoms will likely be mild. Potential reactions include bad breath, unpleasant taste, headache, bad-smelling sweat, and gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and heartburn. Taking too much can result in bleeding or other issues. Your healthcare provider should be able to discuss your situation and make recommendations accordingly.
Are there vegan sources of Omega 3s?
Omega-3 supplements typically come in two forms: Non-vegetarian, which includes options made from fish oil, algae, or krill, a tiny crustacean that lives in the ocean. Vegan options generally include plant oils such as flaxseed, avocado, borage, olive, and other oils.
Best Omega-3 Supplements for Weight Management
When choosing an omega-3 supplement, looking for one with no toxic additives or chemicals is essential, or it could be counterproductive.
You may also prefer plant-based omega-3 supplements over fish oil. Dr. Ohhira’s Essential Living Oils are a vegan-friendly source of omega-3s and other nutrients, making them an excellent fish oil alternative. To learn more, contact Essential Formulas.