Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Can They Fix Insulin Issues?

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Research published in the has found increasing your consumption of omega-3 fats helps improve important markers of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells of the body stop responding to the hormone insulin, which is needed for glucose to get into the cells to be burned as energy. Prolonged insulin resistance leads to type 2 diabetes and has also been implicated in obesity and heart disease.

It hasn’t been firmly established what leads to insulin resistance, although it is certainly a component of the modern diet. Some blame excessive carbohydrate consumption, some speculate it’s trans fats, others have implicated refined fructose. It’s controversial, but some have been able to reverse type 2 diabetes using dietary intervention (although this is denied by orthodox medicine which says the condition can only be managed, not cured).

In the current study, the researchers took 167 patients (82 males and 85 females) and blindly assigned them to either receive a capsule of omega-3 (concentrated EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fats found in fish oil) or a placebo for six months, three times per day with meals.

The omega-3 supplemented group reportedly improved HDL levels (the so-called good cholesterol) and dropped blood triglyceride levels (these being fats in the blood that are associated with insulin resistance among other chronic disease states) compared to the placebo group which showed no change. Meanwhile neither group had a change in total cholesterol levels (a questionable marker for anything anyway) or LDL (the so-called bad cholesterol, which really gets a bad rap for no reason since recent research has shown it’s the size of the LDL particles that really counts, not their total concentration).

“Omega-3 PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acid] not only improved lipid profile in a baseline situation, but it also improved all insulin resistance parameters in a post-prandial situation simulated with an oral fat load,” says lead researcher Giuseppe Derosa from the University of Pavia, Italy. And what does that mean? Fish oil bumped up the good markers for insulin resistance while leaving the bad ones alone. Pretty impressive.

Omega-3 fats are an essential fat that is sorely lacking in the average western diet. You can get them from cold pressed nut and seed oils like flax or chia oil, but this form needs to be converted by the body to the usable EPA and DHA (both of which are found in abundance in cold water fish and can be supplemented in the form of fish oil). Reliance on vegetable sources for omega-3s can lead to deficiency in those who are not proficient in making this conversion.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, a Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef living in Toronto

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