Brain and Body

Fish Oil Could Turn Fat-Storage Cells into Fat-Burning Ones, Study Finds

December 29, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Fish oil
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Weight loss game changer?

By now, you’ve probably heard that fish oil is really good for you. Fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are known to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and the benefits humans can reap from fish oil is a quite lengthy list.

According to WebMD, fish oil gained its reputation as a “brain food” since it can help with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. Other research has shown that fish oil can boost the cardiovascular system and help with diabetes.

Now, researchers in Japan have found that fish oil might even be able to help people lose weight.

At Kyoto University, researchers split up mice into two groups: one group ate fatty food, and the other ate fatty food with fish oil additives. The results showed that the mice who ate fatty food with fish oil gained considerably less weight and fat than the mice that only consumed the fatty food — the rodents who ate food with fish oil gained 50 to 10 percent less weight and 15 to 25 percent less fat.

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These results suggest that fish oil has the ability to turn fat-storage cells into fat-burning cells. The study was performed on mice, but if this same process occurs in humans, losing weight might become easier in the future — especially since we lose our fat-burning cells as we age.

This can be best explained by our different colored fat cells. Although it may seem logical that our fat tissue would act primarily as a fat storage system, it’s only the white fat cells that store fat. Brown fat cells, on the other hand, metabolize fat so that we can maintain a stable body temperature. It’s because we lose brown fat cells as we age that our bodies are unable to metabolize fat as easily as when we’re young.

Beige fat cells, a more recent discovery, may also have a lot to do with the new finding about fish oil’s ability to burn fat.

"We knew from previous research that fish oil has tremendous health benefits, including the prevention of fat accumulation," senior author and food scientist Teruo Kawada said in a press release. "We tested whether fish oil and an increase in beige cells could be related."

Just like brown fat cells, beige fat cells diminish as we get older. They function quite similarly to brown fat cells as well. The researchers decided to investigate whether the number of beige fat cells could be increased by consuming certain types of food — in this case, foods with fish oil.

The found that beige fat cells formed from white fat cells when the sympathetic nervous system was activated, according to the press release. This means that certain fat-storage cells gained the ability to metabolize and burn fat.

"People have long said that food from Japan and the Mediterranean contributes to longevity, but why these cuisines are beneficial was up for debate," said Kawada. "Now we have better insight into why that may be."

Now, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope that these results also apply to humans. If so, kale smoothies and eccentric diets may have to be put on the back burner as we swig some fish oil instead.

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