Polyunsaturated fatty acids as modulators of fat mass and lean mass in human body composition regulation and cardiometabolic health

Obes Rev. 2021 Mar;22 Suppl 2:e13197. doi: 10.1111/obr.13197. Epub 2021 Jan 20.


It is now recognized that the amount and type of dietary fat consumed play an important role in metabolic health. In humans, high intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) has been associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease risk, improvements in glucose homeostasis, and changes in body composition that involve reductions in central adiposity and, more recently, increases in lean body mass. There is also emerging evidence, which suggests that high intakes of the plant-based essential fatty acids (ePUFAs)-n-6 linoleic acid (LA) and n-3 α-linolenic acid (ALA)-have a greater impact on body composition (fat mass and lean mass) and on glucose homeostasis than the marine-derived long-chain n-3 PUFA-eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In addition, high intake of both ePUFAs (LA and ALA) may also have anti-inflammatory effects in humans. The purpose of this review is to highlight the emerging evidence, from both epidemiological prospective studies and clinical intervention trials, of a role for PUFA, in particular ePUFA, in the long-term regulation of body weight and body composition, and their impact on cardiometabolic health. It also discusses current notions about the mechanisms by which PUFAs modulate fat mass and lean mass through altered control of energy intake, thermogenesis, or lean-fat partitioning.

Keywords: cachexia; catch-up growth; diabetes; fat-free mass; obesity; sarcopenia; thermogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid


  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid