Obesity is associated with chronic inflammation, which has been shown to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and other obesity related disorders. Chronic inflammation is increasingly being recognized as contributing to the development of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke. Chronic inflammation results in vascular injury and accelerates the atherosclerotic process which leads to plaque deposition that is the hallmark of coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease. Cardiologists routinely measure C reactive protein as a marker of inflammation and as a way to assess the risk of heart disease in their patients. Decreasing chronic inflammation has been a goal of many medical interventions in order to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. Numerous studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing inflammation, despite recent research that is contrary to this finding. Recently, it has been found that omega 3 fatty acids decrease the inflammation that is associated with obesity.
Researchers, led by Dr. Thomas Stulnig of the Medical University of Vienna, have found that treatment with omega 3 fatty acids decreases inflammation in obese nondiabetic individuals. The results of their study were published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The researchers conducted a controlled randomized trial involving 55 severely obese nondiabetic patients who received omega 3 fatty acids (docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid) or butterfat as control for an 8 week period. Inflammatory gene expression in subcutaneous adipose tissue and visceral adipose tissue were measured from samples obtained during bariatric surgery. In addition, the effects on inflammatory markers in plasma were measured. The researchers found that treatment with omega 3 fatty acids decreased both inflammatory gene expression and the levels of inflammatory markers in plasma.
The authors wrote, “This is the first randomized controlled clinical study, which shows that treatment with [omega 3 fatty acids] alleviates obesity-associated chronic inflammation of [subcutaneous adipose tissue] and [visceral adipose tissue] in severely obese nondiabetic patients, as quantified by local gene expression and systemic levels”.
The authors concluded, “[omega 3 fatty acid] treatment improved adipose tissue and systemic inflammation in severely obese patients compared with control treatment. Whereas the beneficial effects of long chain [omega 3 fatty acids] are evident, the metabolic effects beyond reduced serum triglyceride concentration need to be studied in more detail”.
This study shows that treatment with omega 3 fatty acids decreases inflammation in obesity. The results of this study will need to be reproduced on a large scale, but are encouraging. Omega 3 fatty acids appear to be a way to improve the risk associated with obesity that is dependent on inflammation. By decreasing inflammation in obesity, the risk of the obesity related disorders such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease may be lessened. In this way, the morbidity and chronic medical problems that is often seen in obesity may be decreased. The effects that have been seen in this study may be of benefit in the treatment of obesity and its related disorders in patients that cannot lose weight and are not candidates for bariatric surgery.
Bianca K. Itariu et al. “Long-chain n-3 PUFAs reduce adipose tissue and systemic inflammation in severely obese nondiabetic patients: a randomized controlled trial” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published online ahead of print October 3, 2012 doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.037432