We are about to embark on a journey to uncover the truth behind a recurring question in the world of health and wellness: Can omega-3 actually help with weight loss? As someone who has struggled with weight management in the past and has always been intrigued by natural remedies, I couldn't resist delving into this. Add to that the fact that omega-3 fatty acids are the third most popular dietary supplement. So let's dive in and discover what omega-3 is all about and whether it truly holds the key to shedding those extra pounds.
What is Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that are essential for human health. This means that our bodies cannot produce them on their own, so we must get them from our diet. They are primarily found in fatty fish like:
- trout and
as well as in certain plant-based sources such as:
- chia seeds, and
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
EPA and DHA are found in fish, while ALA is found in plant-based foods.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have a number of health benefits, including reducing inflammation, improving heart health and protecting against cognitive decline. There have been growing calls to add weight loss to this ‘super supplement’s’ capabilities.
It has been proposed that omega-3 fatty acids may help with weight loss by:
We are about to find out whether the research backs up these claims.
Omega-3 and Weight Loss: The Studies
Studies on omega-3 fatty acids and weight loss are anything but consistent. And there’s probably no better example of this than a 2021 literature review published in the Clinical Nutrition ESPEN journal. It looked at 20 studies.
11 of these studies determined omega-3 supplementation had no effect on weight loss or fat mass. In the nine that found some benefit, outcomes were highly diverse. Two found a reduction in body fat, one found a reduction in women’s body fat only and one established the same in men only. One study found omega-3 improved weight loss among adolescents and children. Four studies reported decreased body weight in women only and one reported the same result in men only.
I know what you are thinking – chaos! I have encountered few reviews that have so many different outcomes within a single conclusion. Notice the near perfect split (9 versus 11) of studies that report weight/fat loss and those that do not.
Abdominal Fat Reduction
Thankfully, not all reviews have such disparate findings.
In 2015, meta-analysis published in the PLOS One journal looked at 21 studies. It determined that omega-3 supplementation did not accelerate reduction in weight loss or BMI in overweight or obese persons. It however reported a greater reduction in abdominal fat in the omega-3 groups compared to placebo.
Let’s get away from multi-study reviews for a moment and have a look at a moderately large one-off study. Individual studies may sometimes give a more granular and nuanced view.
In 2022, a study published in the Nutricion Hospitalaria journal involved 40 obese or overweight adults placed on a weight loss diet and administered either a placebo or 1,020 mg omega-3 per day for 12 weeks. There were no differences in weight loss and BMI between the placebo and omega-3 groups. The omega-3 group however had a greater decrease in the mass and percentage of abdominal fat.
Both of these studies point to one thing omega-3 could do for excess weight – reduction in abdominal fat.
In 2011, researchers published a significantly large study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 81 overweight or obese individuals completed a 24-week study. They were placed on a placebo or 3,000 mg omega-3 daily. It found that there were no significant differences in weight loss between the two groups.
Similarly, a 2013 study published in the Obesity Research and Clinical Practice journal involved obese subjects on a low energy diet placed on either 6,000 mg monounsaturated oil or 6,000 mg omega-3 daily. It found no differences in weight loss, fat mass reduction or inflammatory biomarkers between the two groups.
These two studies found no link between omega-3 and weight loss. I could not help but spot the high quantity of omega-3 they used. Could there perhaps be a tipping point where too much omega-3 has negative or nil effect on body weight/fat?
In terms of safety, Omega-3 fatty acids are generally considered safe for most people when ingested as part of everyday foods. It's important though to exercise caution when taking omega-3 supplements especially in high doses. For starters, as we have seen, high doses may not offer any meaningful advantages. Further, omega-3 may interact adversely with certain medications or health conditions. Omega-3 fatty acids can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
The effective and safe dosage of omega-3 fatty acids for weight loss appears to be about 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day. Consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet or supplementation routine.
Omega-3 fatty acids are potent compounds that offer a range of potential health benefits. Weight loss is probably not one of them though. That said, while the idea of omega-3 fatty acids being the ultimate weight loss secret may be a bit of a stretch, there is evidence to suggest that they can play a positive role in reducing abdominal fat.
Omega-3 fatty acids should be seen as a complementary addition to a healthy weight loss plan rather than a standalone solution. A balanced diet, regular exercise and a healthy sustainable lifestyle are still the cornerstones of successful weight loss. So, go ahead and add some omega-3-rich foods to your plate but keep in mind sustainable weight loss requires a holistic approach. Here's to a healthier, happier you!