Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil supplements offer a number of health benefits. While they may help prevent accumulation of body fat and play a role in decreasing unhealthy belly fat, fish oil supplements may not be very effective at helping you lose weight. If you want to drop extra pounds, do what really works: Eat less and move more. Consult your doctor to discuss the best options for you when it comes to your weight and how fish oil supplements might help you in other ways.
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Fish Oil and Weight Loss in Laboratory Research
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, which means your body can't make them and they must come from the food you eat. Most Americans don't get enough of this essential fat in their diet, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
These essential fats may help improve the body's ability to metabolize fat and prevent its accumulation, according to a 2009 report published in Clinical Science. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements also helped prevent obesity in mice fed a high-fat diet, according to a 2013 study published in Physiological Research. This study compared the effects of the same high-fat diet on body composition in mice, with or without omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. The mice supplemented with the essential fat have less body fat, better blood lipid levels -- think cholesterol -- and better blood sugars.
Does Fish Oil Help People Lose Weight?
While fish oil may help mice lose weight, it may not have the same effect on you. Fish oil supplementation didn't help people lose weight, according to a 2015 PLOS One report. This meta-analysis, which looked at 21 separate studies, did find that supplementing with omega-3s may help prevent weight gain. Although more research is needed, the researchers found higher levels of omega-3s in normal-weight people than in obese people, and report it may be related to how omega-3s help the body break down fat.
Although the supplement didn't seem to help with weight loss, the researchers noted a reduction in abdominal obesity in those taking fish oil. The type of belly fat called visceral fat is the worst, according to Harvard Health Publications, and linked to a number of health issues, including high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar.
Other Benefits of Fish Oil
In addition to possibly helping decrease belly fat, fish oil offers other health benefits. The essential fats help keep your heart beating at a steady rhythm, which may lower your risk of heart disease. It's also been shown to improve blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels and reduce inflammation, which also improves heart health. Its anti-inflammatory effects may protect you from other illnesses, such as cancer and arthritis. Fish oil has been used as a form of treatment for people with rheumatoid arthritis, and may also benefit those with lupus and eczema by helping control symptoms. And omega-3s may offer some protection against the development of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
How Much Fish Oil?
If you're thinking about a fish oil supplement, talk to your doctor about how much you should take. Do not take more than 3 grams a day, according to UMMC, because of concerns with increased bleeding, unless your doctor recommends it.
While supplements may be convenient, you can get fish oil, and its health benefits, by eating fish. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of omega-3 rich fish a week -- such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring. But fish isn't the only source of omega-3 fats. You can also get what you need from flaxseeds, soy foods and soy oil, walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
- PLOS One: Does Fish Oil Have an Anti-Obesity Effect in Overweight/Obese Adults? A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
- Physiological Research: Anti-Obesity Effect of n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Mice Fed High-Fat Diet Is Independent of Cold-Induced Thermogenesis
- Clinical Science: Cellular and Molecular Effects of n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Adipose Tissue Biology and Metabolism
- Harvard School of Public Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Obesity and Your Health
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids