Epidemiological evidence of an inverse association between consumption of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC n-3 PUFA) and obesity has been conflicting, even though studies in animal models of obesity and limited human trials suggest that LC n-3 PUFA consumption may contribute to weight loss.

We used baseline data from a convenience sample of 476 adults (291 women, 185 men) participating in clinical trials at our Centre to explore relationships between erythrocyte levels of LC n-3 PUFA (a reliable indicator of habitual intake) and measures of adiposity, viz. body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC) and body fat (BF) assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Means ± SD of assessments were BMI: 34 ± 7 and 31 ± 5 kg/m2; WC: 105 ± 16 and 110 ± 13 cm; BF: 48 ± 5 and 35% ± 6% in women and men respectively. Erythrocyte levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were similar in men and women while docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) was higher and EPA + DHA (Omega-3 Index) slightly lower in men than in women. Both DHA and EPA + DHA correlated inversely with BMI, WC and BF in women while DPA correlated inversely with BF in men.

Quartile distributions and curvilinear regression of the Omega-3 Index versus BMI revealed a steep rise of BMI in the lower range of the Omega-3 Index in women, but no association in men. Thus the results highlight important gender differences in relationships of specific LC n-3 PUFA in erythrocytes to markers of adiposity. If these reflect causal relationships between LC n-3 PUFA consumption and risk of obesity, gender specific targeted interventions should be considered.

PMID: 24803096

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