Fish oil combined with exercise boosts weight loss

Taking fish oil supplements on a daily basis along with some moderate exercise three times a week can help you lose weight according to the results of a study conducted by The University of South Australia and presented at the ISSFAL (International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids & Lipids) Congress in Cairns, Australia, in 2006.

The intervention study was conducted by PhD student Allison Hill and involved 75 overweight or obese men and women between the ages of 25 and 65 who had risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms linked to obesity that includes high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides in the blood and a resistance to insulin or increased levels of insulin, and together these increase the risk of developing heart disease and type two diabetes.

The Study

Those taking part in the study were split into two groups and given either fish oil (containing 2gr of Omega 3 fatty acids in the form of EPA and DHA), or sunflower oil, for a period of twelve weeks. No one participating in the study knew which group they were in. Half of the fish oil group and half of the sunflower oil group were then asked to take moderate exercise by walking or running for 45 minutes three times a week, the other half continued to take either fish oil or sunflower oil but with no exercise.

There was no difference in weight for those taking only fish oil or only sunflower oil, neither was there any difference in the group taking sunflower oil combined with exercise, however, those taking fish oil combined with exercise lost an average of 2 kg (4.5lb) over the course of the trial without making any modifications to their diet at all, they basically continued to eat what they wanted to eat. Furthermore, using Dual Energy X-ray Absoptiometry (DEXA), which is often used to measure body composition as it can differentiate between fat, muscle and bone, showed that those in the fish oil and exercise group, had a significant reduction in body fat.

It is not understood exactly why taking fish oil combined with exercise appears to make a difference to weight loss but a combination of factors is thought to be involved such as helping the blood to flow more efficiently throughout the body and to the muscles, and initiating metabolic changes involving the enzymes responsible for transporting the fat required by the body for energy.

Eicosapentaenoic acid

The Omega 3 fatty acid EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) in particular has hit the headlines many times in recent years due to its reported ability to combat inflammation in the body and for the profound effect it can have on mood, mental function and behaviour. Consequently, it has been cited as being beneficial for everything from heart disease, arthritis, asthma, and allergies to anxiety, depression, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s disease, to mention but a few. It seems there is hardly an area of health where EPA does not show some benefit, indicating the importance of having enough of this Omega 3 fatty acid in our daily diet.

How important is Omega 3?

Everyone knows that excess weight and obesity can lead to health problems and most of us already know that Omega 3 is good for health, but how many of us understand just how important the Omega 3 fatty acids actually are? The truth is, most of us don’t get anywhere near enough EPA in our diet to make a difference to our health and nutritionists believe that the reason we are seeing a rise in health problems like heart disease, arthritis, depression, skin problems and even excess weight, is because over the past few decades we have drastically reduced our consumption of fish sources of Omega 3 and yet at the same time we have massively increased our intake of the pro-inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 is abundant in our diets, it can be found in vegetable oils, processed foods, and meat and dairy products, whereas EPA can only be found in any real quantities in oily fish and fish oil.

The indication that fish oil and moderate exercise can result in weight loss without altering the diet in any way is good news in itself, particularly for those who are struggling to lose weight, however, the most exciting prospect is that even better results might be obtained by controlling the diet and participating in more vigorous exercise.


There is no substitute for a healthy diet as part of any weight loss plan and anyone can achieve weight loss by restricting calories and increasing the amount of exercise they do provided they are burning off more energy than they are taking in. The evidence would seem to suggest that fish oil can help this process along so not only do you lose weight; you can boost your health and your mood at the same time.