Does Fish Oil Supplementation Improve Body Composition?

Let’s face it, who among us doesn’t want to lose some flab from around our wait or other areas of our body?  At the same time, many of us also want to achieve a more toned and in some cases muscular physique.  We also live in a society where quick fixes and easy solutions prevail over common sense in some cases.

To achieve the ‘fit’ look that most of us seek, there’s no question that it requires regular exercise (preferably a combination of resistance training and cardio) along with a healthy diet while watching our caloric intake.  At this point in time, the magical pill that will do this for us hasn’t been invented…  Or has it?

Research on Fish Oil and Body Fat?

Researchers from Washington published their results of a study involving the effect of fish oil supplementation on body composition.  Specifically, the measured the effects of fish oil supplementation for six weeks on basal metabolic rate (BMR), body weight, fat mass, fat free mass, body fat percentage, and salivary cortisol.

The study itself included 44 individuals of both genders who were randomized to consume either the placebo (Safflower Oil) or 4 g/day of fish oil supplying 1,600mg/d eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 800mg/d docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

In terms of the background for this study, the researchers noted that in rodent models, consumption of cold water fish is linked to lower total body fat stores.  Though the mechanism for this is not yet understood, they noted that fish oil may have an effect on lipogenic gene suppression.

The specific fish oil used in this study was manufactured by Genuine Health Corporation from Toronto Canada.  It included taking 2 capsules with breakfast and 2 with dinner each day.  Each capsule itself from this company contains 400mg EPA and 200mg DHA.  The capsules from Genuine Health Corporation feature an enteric coating which presumably may reduce the “fish burps,” a common side effect of supplementation with fish oil.

Fish Oil Study Results:

Negative results:

  • No significant difference in body mass
  • No significant differences observed in metabolic rate

Positive results:

  • Significant increase in fat-free mass [FO = +0.5+0.5 kg; p=0.03]
  • Significant decrease in fat mass [FO = -0.5+1.3 kg; p=0.04]
  • Trend towards decrease in body fat percentage [FO = -0.4+1.3 %; p=0.08]
  • Possible reduction in salivary cortisol levels

The results of this study suggest that daily supplementation with fish oil for six weeks will significant increase fat-free mass and decrease fat mass.  The participants in this study did not participate in an exercise regime and consumed an a libitum diet.

Looking at the numbers themselves, the effect is not staggeringly large.  However, considering that the participants who consumed fish oil dropped half a kilogram of fat and gained that  much in lean muscle mass, it’s not too bad in the context of not working out.

Previous research suggests that fish oil consumption has numerous other health benefits including reducing cardiovascular risk.  For athletes, research also suggests that fish oil consumption may have an ergogenic effect at improving lung function.

Reference:

  1. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:31 (8 October 2010)

14 thoughts on “Does Fish Oil Supplementation Improve Body Composition?

  1. Jarret –

    Great Post!

    EET has always recommended fish oil for our members for the very reasons outlined in the above article.

    I think your readers may also want to know a couple of other findings that EET has learned that could effect their use of fish oil.

    1) Fish oil is best timed right before bed at night — this assumes you have kept your carbs to a minimum at dinner so your body will be more likely to burn fat while you sleep and when you wake up.

    While your study cited above did not account for timing and still showed positive effects, it should make sense that if carbs are blocking the way for fat burning the fats in fish oil are not likely to be utilized as effectively.

    2) Much more importantly, fish oil consumption has been shown to create increases in LDL cholesterol, so those with cholesterol issues and especially those who are on cholesterol medication need to review their use of fish oil supplementation with their doctor.

    Thanks again for the latest research — EET always loves confirmation of any part of our comprehensive approach to weight loss with less need for deprivation and endless exercise!

    Jon
    The EET Fitness Plan

  2. Hey Jon,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Earlier studies suggested that fish oil consumption may lower cholesterol levels (many of these studies did not use fish oil alone). You’re correct that more recent studies suggest that fish oil consumption may lead to small increases in LDL in some people. As such, it’s important to monitor for those with concerns over their cholesterol levels. The do lower trigylceride levels and the net effect is positive for promoting heart health.

  3. Does eating fish several times a week have the same effect? I prefer to stay healthy with a balanced diet without supplements if possible. Your thoughts please.
    Patricia Perth Australia

  4. Hi Patricia, an earlier study did show that consuming fish specifically helped to regulate leptin levels (a hormone associated with obesity).

    Though most of the studies that I’ve personally read have looked specifically at fish oil capsules, omega-3 fatty acids can also be obtained by eating fish. Typically, there’s about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids per 3.5 ounces of fish.

    Certain types of fish that are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include: salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovy, sardines, trout–amount others).

  5. Thanks Jarret. I try and eat fish several times a week and now that summer is approaching here in Oz, will eat more as have heaps of salads in the warmer weather and love tuna so no worries there.
    Patricia Perth Australia

  6. I hope you’ll do a post about any supplements that help apraxia/dyspraxia. I read about one somewhere, but cannot recall its name. My son has this diagnosis, so I would love to hear your thoughts.

    1. Hi Alexandra, I imagine that it must be difficult trying to find out treatment options for your son. I’m not aware of any particular supplements that help with apraxia/dyspraxia. If you find out the name of the product that you’ve read about, I can tell you more info about the supplement itself and whether or not it’s likely to offer some benefit.

  7. Hi again Jarret
    Just heard here in Oz that a study that has been done shows taking fish oil capsules in pregnancy does not have any benefit. Didn’t catch all of it but the debate goes on eh.
    Patricia Perth Australia

    1. Hi Patricia, I had take a quick look at the abstract for that study previously. From what I remember, they didn’t find that fish oil supplementation had an effect on postpartum depression or cognitive development in children.

  8. @JARRET
    What about taking wholistic approach to fat loss. If some health advice like morning jogging, drinking enough water and exercising can be heed, people will not have need of running after short cuts. I will go with the holistic approach and maintain a lasting health.

  9. Thanks for the article. I take 6000mg fish oil daily to stave off depression but have been concerned about eating that much extra fat. Good to know it may even help with weight loss!

  10. I had great success with USANA fish oil (“Biomega”). I was worried I was getting Alzheimer’s or an HIV related dementia but I went on Biomega, which is a pharmaceutical grade product, and I couldn’t believe how clear my mind was afterwards. I went from leaving things on the stove to total clarity within weeks. I totally believe in fish oil.

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