PALMERSTOWN NORTH, New Zealand—A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids improves carbohydrate and fat metabolism, which can help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease, especially as people age, according to a new study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism.
Researchers at Massey University research found a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids helps to burn metabolic fuels (glucose and fat) better, and can regulate energy storage across different tissues. Omega-3 will do this even if there are genetic factors that predispose people to put on weight more easily, so that they are more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease.
“These findings are important because the ageing process is closely linked with a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome – a clustering of risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and obesity," said Professor Breier, chair of human nutrition at the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health at Albany.
The researchers said omega-3s have been found to stimulate the process known as the insulin signaling cascade, which improves how blood sugar is used in the body. The researchers carried out tests on mice, examining the effects of feeding omega-3 rich diets to two groups with distinct, genetically determined traits to model different body types and metabolic responses of humans. One group developed obesity more easily and the second was a leaner variety. When they measured changes to the metabolic responses, results showed the omega-3 rich diet reduced cholesterol and improved insulin action and fat metabolism in both groups of mice. The obesity prone mice didn’t respond as well as the leaner variety, drawing attention to genetically determined pathways that contribute to obesity.
They concluded the study has shown for the first time that the insulin signaling cascade becomes more active with dietary omega-3 fatty acids, and the omega-3 fatty acids in our diet can help how energy in our body is used.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for health but the human body cannot make them, unlike other types of fats. Omega-3s are found in oily fish such as salmon and sardines, as well as walnuts, eggs and flaxseed, and have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke as well as playing protective roles for healthy bones and healthy muscle.