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April 2012

Omega-3s May Improve Blood Sugar in Obese Teens

Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may improve blood sugar control in obese adolescent girls without increasing weight, a new study reports.

The primary essential fatty acids in the human diet are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and certain plant and nut oils. Fish oil contains both docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), while some nuts (such as English walnuts) and vegetable oils (such as canola, soybean, flaxseed, linseed and olive oils) contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

In a new study, researchers recruited 25 obese boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17. Participants randomly received either a 1.2 gram omega-3 fatty acid capsule or a placebo for three months. After six weeks, each subject received the opposite treatment for another three months. The investigators collected data on fasting blood glucose, cholesterol and insulin levels. They also conducted glucose tolerance tests and skeletal muscle biopsies.

The researchers observed that in girls, omega-3 supplementation restored blood sugar concentration by 34 percent and improved glucose tolerance by 39 percent. However, these effects were not seen in boys.

The team concluded that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may benefit obese adolescent girls by improving their blood sugar control. However, more evidence is needed to confirm these findings.

There is supportive evidence from multiple studies that suggests the intake of recommended amounts of DHA and EPA in the form of dietary fish or fish oil supplements lowers triglycerides; reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease; slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques ("hardening of the arteries") and lowers blood pressure slightly. However, high doses may have harmful effects, such as an increased risk of bleeding. Although similar benefits have been proposed for alpha-linolenic acid, the scientific evidence is less compelling, and the beneficial effects may be less pronounced.

For more information about omega-3 fatty acids, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Dangardt F, Chen Y, Gronowitz E, et al. High physiological omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation affects muscle Fatty Acid composition and glucose and insulin homeostasis in obese adolescents. J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:395757. Epub 2012 Feb 20. View Abstract
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.
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