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Higher omega 3 levels associated with lower metabolic syndrome risk

Tuesday, July 14, 2015. An article published on May 3, 2015 in the European Journal of Nutrition reports an association between higher red blood cell omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) levels and a lower risk of metabolic syndrome—a group of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes that include abdominal obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance and abnormal blood lipid levels.

For their study, researchers at China's Sun Yat-sen University enrolled 4,343 men and women between the ages of 30 and 75 years beginning in December 2005. Fasting blood samples were analyzed for erythrocyte (red blood cell) membrane eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and alpha linolenic acid (ALA), as well as serum glucose, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and total cholesterol levels. Dietary questionnaire responses provided information concerning omega 3 fatty acid intake. Metabolic syndrome was determined by the presence of three or more components that included waist circumference of at least 90 centimeters (approximately 35 inches) in men and 80 centimeters (approximately 31 inches) in women, blood pressure of at least 130/85 mmHg or use of antihypertensive drugs, fasting glucose of at least 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or use of antidiabetic drugs, HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women, and triglyceride levels of 150 mg/dL or more.

Subjects who had higher total levels of omega 3 fatty acids had a significantly lower risk of metabolic syndrome compared with those whose levels were lowest. When individual omega 3s were analyzed, marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids EPA, DHA and DPA emerged as significantly protective. In comparison with men whose EPA levels were among the lowest 25% of participants, those whose levels were among the highest 25% had a 45% lower adjusted risk of metabolic syndrome, and for DHA and DPA, the risk was 55% and 46% lower. For women, being among the top 25% of EPA, DHA and DPA was associated with risk reductions of 26%, 25% and 27%.

Authors Xiao-wei Dai and colleagues note that the protective effect of omega 3 against metabolic syndrome observed in this study was primarily due to an association with more favorable lipid levels. "Omega-3 PUFAs and their metabolites are natural ligands for several nuclear receptors and transcription factors that regulate the expression of genes involved in obesity and lipid metabolism," they observe.

"Higher levels of total omega-3 PUFAs, EPA, DPA, and DHA, but not of ALA, in erythrocyte membranes are associated with a lower presence of metabolic syndrome in Chinese adults," they conclude.

 
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On December 17, 2013, the journal PLoS One published the results of research which indicates that the benefits of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are wider than previously known. The study was the first of its kind to utilize metabolomics, an analysis of metabolites, to learn more about the fatty acids' benefits in liver disease.

Researchers at Oregon State University studied the effects of omega 3 in the livers of mice in which nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) was induced by a standard Western diet consumed for 16 weeks. Some of the animals received the omega-3 PUFA EPA and/or DHA along with the diet and others received olive oil.

Supplementation with DHA was more effective than EPA at normalizing NASH gene expression markers and other factors altered by the Western diet. The team found that DHA affected all major metabolic pathways to exert a protective effect against the diet's ability to induce the disease. The researchers observed changes in vitamin, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, as well as protein function.

"We were shocked to find so many biological pathways being affected by omega-3 fatty acids," remarked study coauthor Donald Jump, who is a professor at the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences. "Most studies on these nutrients find effects on lipid metabolism and inflammation. Our metabolomics analysis indicates that the effects of omega-3 fatty acids extend beyond that, and include carbohydrate, amino acid and vitamin metabolism."

"A lot of work has been done on fatty liver disease, and we are just beginning to explore the potential for DHA in preventing or slowing disease progression," Dr Jump noted.

"Fish oils, a common supplement used to provide omega-3, are also not prescribed to regulate blood glucose levels in diabetic patients," he added. "But our studies suggest that DHA may reduce the formation of harmful glucose metabolites linked to diabetic complications."

 
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Health Concern

Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as non-insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when the body is no longer able to use insulin effectively and gradually becomes resistant to its effects. It is a slowly progressing disease that goes through identifiable stages. In the early stages, both insulin and glucose levels are elevated (conditions called hyperinsulinemia and hyperglycemia, respectively). In the later stages, insulin levels are reduced, and blood glucose levels are very elevated. Although few people are aware of this crucial distinction, therapy for type 2 diabetes should be tailored to the stage of the disease.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include aging, obesity, family history, physical inactivity, ethnicity, and impaired glucose metabolism. Type 2 diabetes is also a prominent risk of metabolic syndrome, a constellation of conditions that includes insulin resistance along with hypertension, lipid disorders, and overweight.

In human experiments, omega-3 fatty acids lowered blood pressure and triglyceride levels, thereby relieving many of the complications associated with diabetes. In animals, omega-3 fatty acids cause less weight gain than other fats do; they have also been shown to have a neutral effect on LDL, while raising HDL and lowering triglycerides (Petersen 2002).

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