Omega-3 fatty acids in obesity and metabolic syndrome: a mechanistic update

J Nutr Biochem. 2018 Aug;58:1-16. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2018.02.012. Epub 2018 Feb 27.


Strategies to reduce obesity have become public health priorities as the prevalence of obesity has risen in the United States and around the world. While the anti-inflammatory and hypotriglyceridemic properties of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) are well known, their antiobesity effects and efficacy against metabolic syndrome, especially in humans, are still under debate. In animal models, evidence consistently suggests a role for n-3 PUFAs in reducing fat mass, particularly in the retroperitoneal and epididymal regions. In humans, however, published research suggests that though n-3 PUFAs may not aid weight loss, they may attenuate further weight gain and could be useful in the diet or as a supplement to help maintain weight loss. Proposed mechanisms by which n-3 PUFAs may work to improve body composition and counteract obesity-related metabolic changes include modulating lipid metabolism; regulating adipokines, such as adiponectin and leptin; alleviating adipose tissue inflammation; promoting adipogenesis and altering epigenetic mechanisms.

Keywords: Adipocytes; Fish oil; Metabolic syndrome; Obesity; Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids; Weight loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology
  • Animals
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / pharmacology
  • Body Composition / drug effects
  • Exercise
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Metabolic Syndrome / diet therapy*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Obesity / diet therapy*
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Panniculitis / diet therapy
  • Panniculitis / metabolism
  • Panniculitis / prevention & control
  • Vegetables / chemistry


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3