n-3 Fatty acids and the metabolic syndrome

Author: Y Carpentier
Source: Am J Clin Nutr June 2006 vol. 83 no. 6 S1499-1504S
Publication Date: 6/1/2006

Open Link


The metabolic syndrome is defined as the coexistence of 3 or more components, some of which indicate alterations in glucose and lipid metabolism. The prevalence of the metabolic syndrome is rapidly increasing in relation to obesity, and it is considered to be an important predictor of cardiovascular disease. Increased intakes or supplements of n-3 marine fatty acids may improve defects in insulin signaling and prevent alterations in glucose homeostasis and the further development of type 2 diabetes. This is largely mediated through a reduction in fatty acid accumulation in muscle and liver. n-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) reduce plasma triacylglycerols and improve the lipoprotein profile by decreasing the fraction of atherogenic small, dense LDL. However, n-3 PUFAs do not lower LDL cholesterol. These effects are likely mediated through the activity of transcription factors relating to expression of genes involved in lipid oxidation and synthesis. Other pleiotrophic effects of n-3 PUFAs may contribute to decreasing the burden of the metabolic syndrome, such as modulating inflammation, platelet activation, endothelial function, and blood pressure. Although studies comparing the effect of both major n-3 PUFAs are limited, docosahexaenoic acid appears at least as efficient as eicosapentaenoic acid in correcting several risk factors. The use of n-3 PUFAs should be considered in more global strategies including changes in lifestyle, such as adhering to a healthy Mediterranean type of diet and practicing regular physical exercise.