Omega-3 fatty acids could regulate genes associated with obesity

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages - Omega 3 Supplement / enviromantic
GettyImages - Omega 3 Supplement / enviromantic

Related tags omega 3 EPA and DHA Fish oil supplements Omega-3 fatty acid Eicosapentaenoic acid Docosahexaenoic acid

Anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA could have the ability to regulate genes associated with obesity, a new systematic review has concluded.

The authors from Chile conclude: “The incorporation of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may have potential advantages and efficacy in addressing noncommunicable diseases, including obesity.”

They note that this could “be attributed to their anti-inflammatory properties and their ability to regulate genes associated with obesity”. 


Obesity, affecting over 30% of adults​, is a significant public health concern due to its impact on health, medical costs, and mortality​.

The condition is characterised by an excessive accumulation of adipose tissue​ that poses a health risk due to its association with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia​. 

Genomics​, specifically nutrigenomics and nutri-epigenomics, have created an understanding of the molecular effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), like EPA and DHA, in regulating gene expression during obesity development​.

EPA and DHA contain adequate nutrients that protect against the cardiometabolic dangers​ associated with obesity.

Supplementing with EPA and DHA has been found to lower​ the amount of triacylglycerol in the blood. 

And they have been shown to inhibit the innate immune response​ that TLR4 induces in adipose and trophoblast cells to reduce inflammation in people with obesity. 

However, genetic variability and various factors can complicate outcomes​, and therefore the authors note: “EPA and DHA [role] in regulating gene expression during the development of obesity is a promising goal that could strongly impact dietary choices, considering not only food composition but also its nutrigenomic and nutria-epigenomic properties.”

The review ​ 

The authors searched databases until August 2023 to identify English-language scholarly articles utilising MeSH terms and textual content pertaining to long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, gene expression, obesity, and omega-3.

A comprehensive analysis was conducted on a total of nine primary research articles relating long-chain PUFA consumption (EPA and DHA) with the regulation of gene expression and anti-inflammatory effects during the development of obesity in humans between 18 and 65 years old. 

Previous research​ has found that long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) may offer protection against cardiometabolic risks associated with obesity, where a higher body mass index has been linked with low omega-3 status among adults​.

One study​ found a decrease in body composition and fat mass after EPA and DHA intake, and another described a decreased body mass index​ after consuming EPA; where a 4.35% weight loss was found after 12 weeks.

There is a widespread association between obesity and inflammation​, measurable by elevation in mRNA levels​ of IL-6, IL-12, IFN, and CXCL10 chemokines in individuals with obesity. 

Research has observed​ elevated levels of protective factors such as nuclear receptor proteins peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) after LC-PUFA intake, indicating potential benefits.  

And the association between obesity and inflammation has also been highlighted by a proven decrease in pro-inflammatory genes​ and cytokines after LC-PUFA consumption.

Additionally, previous studies ​have found that PUFAs decrease sVCAM-1 and TNF-α in people living with obesity.

The role of specialised pro-resolving lipid mediators (SPMs), derived from LC-PUFAs, has been explored​ in mitigating inflammation and promoting cardiovascular health.  

These SPMs, including resolvins and protectins, exhibit anti-inflammatory effects through specific receptors and pathways​. 

However, the authors note there is a need for further research to understand the relationship between genomics, obesity, and polyunsaturated fatty acids fully.

They suggest that PUFA intake may control the parameters related to obesity through different epigenetic mechanisms, as there is a correlation with the genetic modulation of ALOX5 and ALOX15 expression during obesity​, where ALOX5 promotes leukotrienes, lipoxins, and resolvins production​.

However, ALOX12 and ALOX15 genes appear to have​ anti-inflammatory and inflammatory effects, respectively, and ALOX12’s pro-inflammatory activity was shown to decrease after omega-3 intake​.

Although the authors suggest that ALOX12 and ALOX15 could have pro-inflammatory activity, results could also be explained as ALOX12 and ALOX15 are involved in EPA and DHA metabolism​. 

They conclude: “More studies are still required to understand the relationship between genomics, obesity, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.”




Journal: Frontiers in Nutrition​ 

“Role of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic, in the regulation of gene expression during the development of obesity: a systematic review”

Authors: Cristian Sandoval, Karen Nahuelqueo, Luciana Mella, Blanca Recabarren, Vanessa Souza-Mello, and Jorge Farías.

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