DEC 23, 2015 2:39 PM PST

Fish Oil Turns Fat-Storage Cells Into Fat-Burning Cells

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet
Kyoto University researchers have found that fish oil transforms fat-storage cells into fat-burning cells, which may reduce weight gain in middle age.

Fish oil has been long known for its benefits. It improves both heart and brain health. It helps with fertility, health during pregnancy, and healthy skin. 

Now, new research suggests fish oil additionally transforms white fat cells into beige fat cells. 

There are three types of fat cells: white, beige, and brown fat cells. White fat cells are responsible for obesity. They store excess energy that, when unused, leads to unwanted fat. Brown fat cells burn fat to generate heat and keep the body warm. Beige fat cells burn calories. The body converts white fat cells into beige fat cells during exercise when muscles release the hormone irisin. Unfortunately, like brown cells, beige fat cells diminish in number as one grows older. 

Japanese scientists from Kyoto University found that mice fed fatty foods and fish oil gained significantly less weight and fat than mice fed fatty foods alone. Specifically, the fish oil group gained 5 to 10 percent less weight and 15 to 25 percent less fat. The oil works by triggering receptors in the digestive tract. The receptors activate the sympathetic nervous system and convert fat-storage cells into fat-burning cells. Thus, it protects the body against diet-induced obesity. 

Researchers still need to prove whether the information applies to humans. However, further studies are likely to show just that. The researchers hope fish oil will be able to contribute to an effective treatment for obesity.

There are over 60 chronic diseases linked to obesity, including diabetes and heart disease. Diets rich in fat impair the brain as well - hurting cognitive function, shrinking brain volume, and even increasing one's risk of depression. Over one-thirds of American adults are obese. In comparison, only 3.6 percent of people in Japan are obese. 

"People have said that food from Japan and the Mediterranean regions contributes to longevity, but why it was good was up for debate," said study senior author Teruo Kawada. "Now we have better insight into why that is.”

The study was published online on December 17, by Scientific Reports

Sources: Study in Scientific Reports, Press release via EurekAlert!, Kyoto University, MedCap Advisors, ScienceAlert
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to
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