Adipose tissue α-linolenic acid is inversely associated with insulin resistance in adults

Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Apr;103(4):1105-10. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.118935. Epub 2016 Feb 24.


Background: There is emerging evidence of the beneficial effects of n-3 (ω-3) fatty acids (FAs) on cardiometabolic risk factors. Nevertheless, not much is known about the association between adipose tissue α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and insulin resistance.

Objective: We determined the association between adipose tissue n-3 FAs (total n-3 FAs, ALA, and EPA plus DHA) and insulin resistance in healthy adults.

Design: In this cross-sectional study, multivariable analyses were used to assess the association between adipose tissue FAs (ALA, EPA plus DHA, and total n-3 FAs) and the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) in a subset of adult participants (n= 716; mean age: 58 y) from the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2) cohort.

Results: Compared with the lowest tertile, the third tertile (β = -0.13; 95% CI: -0.24, -0.01) of adipose tissue ALA was inversely associated with the HOMA-IR. When stratified by waist circumference, ALA continued to be inversely associated [third tertile: β = -0.17 (95% CI: -0.31, -0.02)] with the HOMA-IR in subjects with a waist circumference ≤88 cm in women or ≤102 cm in men but not in those with a larger waist circumference. No significant association was noted between adipose tissue EPA plus DHA and HOMA-IR.

Conclusions: Higher adipose tissue ALA was inversely associated with insulin resistance in this cohort of healthy adult men and women. This finding appears to be more pronounced in individuals with a normal waist circumference.

Keywords: adiposity; biomarker; insulin resistance; n–3 fatty acids; waist circumference.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Aged
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / metabolism
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / metabolism*


  • alpha-Linolenic Acid
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid