Fish oil and fat loss

I have often said, “It takes fat to burn fat”. As I describe in my book “Toxic Fat,” increased cellular inflammation in the fat cells turns them into “fat traps” (1). This means that fat cells become increasingly compromised in their ability to release stored fat for conversion into chemical energy needed to allow you to move around and survive. As a result, you get fatter, and you are constantly tired and hungry.

One of the best ways to reduce cellular inflammation in the fat cells is by increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. This was demonstrated in a recent article that indicated supplementing a calorie-restricted diet with 1.5 grams of EPA and DHA per day resulted in more than two pounds of additional weight loss compared to the control group in a eight-week period (2).

How omega-3 fatty acids help to ”burn fat faster” is most likely related to their ability to reduce cellular inflammation in the fat cells (3,4) and to increase the levels of adiponectin (5). Both mechanisms will help relax a “fat trap” that has been activated by cellular inflammation.

However, there is a cautionary note. This is because omega-3 fatty acids are very prone to oxidation once they enter the body. This is especially true relative to the enhanced oxidation of the LDL particles (6-9).

This means that to get the full benefits any fish oil supplementation, you have to increase your intake of polyphenols to protect the omega-3 fatty acids from oxidation. How much? I recommend at least 8,000 additional ORAC units for every 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA that you add to your diet. That's about 10 servings per day of fruits and vegetables, which should be no problem if you are following the Zone diet. If not, then consider taking a good polyphenol supplement.

Once you add both extra fish oil and polyphenols to a calorie-restricted diet, you will burn fat faster without any concern about increased oxidation in the body that can lead to accelerated aging.


  1. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)
  2. Thorsdottir I, Tomasson H, Gunnarsdottir I, Gisladottir E, Kiely M, Parra MD, Bandarra NM, Schaafsma G, and Martinez JA. “Randomized trial of weight-loss diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content.” Int J Obes 31: 1560-1566 (2007)
  3. Huber J, Loffler M, Bilban M, Reimers M, Kadl A, Todoric J, Zeyda M, Geyeregger R, Schreiner M, Weichhart T, Leitinger N, Waldhausl W, and Stulnig TM. “Prevention of high-fat diet-induced adipose tissue remodeling in obese diabetic mice by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” Int J Obes 31: 1004-1013 (2007)
  4. Todoric J, Loffler M, Huber J, Bilban M, Reimers M, Kadl A, Zeyda M, Waldhausl W, and Stulnig TM. “Adipose tissue inflammation induced by high-fat diet in obese diabetic mice is prevented by n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” Diabetologia 49: 2109-2119 (2006)
  5. Krebs JD, Browning LM, McLean NK, Rothwell JL, Mishra GD, Moore CS, and Jebb SA. “Additive benefits of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and weight-loss in the management of cardiovascular disease risk in overweight hyperinsulinaemic women.” Int J Obes 30: 1535-1544 (2006)
  6. Pedersen H, Petersen M, Major-Pedersen A, Jensen T, Nielsen NS, Lauridsen ST, and Marckmann P. “Influence of fish oil supplementation on in vivo and in vitro oxidation resistance of low-density lipoprotein in type 2 diabetes.” Eur J Clin Nutr 57: 713-720 (2003)
  7. Turini ME, Crozier GL, Donnet-Hughes A, and Richelle MA. “Short-term fish oil supplementation improved innate immunity, but increased ex vivo oxidation of LDL in man–a pilot study.” Eur J Nutr 40: 56-65 (2001)
  8. Stalenhoef AF, de Graaf J, Wittekoek ME, Bredie SJ, Demacker PN, and Kastelein JJ. “The effect of concentrated n-3 fatty acids versus gemfibrozil on plasma lipoproteins, low-density lipoprotein heterogeneity and oxidizability in patients with hypertriglyceridemia.” Atherosclerosis 153: 129-138 (2000)
  9. Finnegan YE. Minihane AM, Leigh-Firbank EC, Kew S, Meijer GW, Muggli R, Calder PC, and Williams CM. “Plant- and marine-derived n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have differential effects on fasting and postprandial blood lipid concentrations and on the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative modification in moderately hyperlipidemic subjects.” Am J Clin Nutr 77: 783-795 (2003)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

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About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 30 years to the study of lipids. He has published more than 30 scientific articles and holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 13 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller "The Zone". These books have sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.

30 thoughts on “Fish oil and fat loss

  1. hola mi proposito al escribirles en espanol es porque necesito asesoria porque a mi me removieron la gladula tiroide y unos nodulos cancerosos quiero saber si yo puedo seguir el regimen alimenticio dela DIET ZONE ME GUSTARIA RECIBIR INFORMACION EN ESPANOL YO SUPE DE USTEDES POR EL CASO DE MANUEL URIBE DE MEXICO LO VI EN LA T.V., YO TENGO 67 ANOS MIDO 5 PIES Y 4 PULGADAS Y PESO 204 LIBRAS Y TOMO PASTILLAS AMLODIPINE BESYLATE 5 MG PARA LA PRESION ARTERIAL Y LEVOTHYROXINE 175 MG PARA LA TIROID.

    • donde vives?? en hermosillo mexico hay una doctora buenisima q es muy amiga del doctor barry sears, tal vez ella pueda ayudarte, yo estoy en la zona y me a caido de maravilla, te la recomiendo… ojala y a ti te funcione!!!

    • Hola Elizabeth:
      Si estas en los Estados Unidos, puedes llamar a Servicio al cliente al 1-800-404-8171, ellos tienen representantes en Español que te pueden ayudar con la dieta.
      si estas en Mexico te puedes comunicar con los distribuidores de la Zona Mexicanos al 01-33-36404900.
      Espero que esto sea de tu ayuda, Gracias!!

  2. You state that you have to increase your intake of polyphenols to protect the omega-3 fatty acids from oxidation and you recommend 8,000 additional ORAC units for every 2.5 grams of EPA DHA, which is about 10 servings of fruits and vegetables. Wouldn’t the increase depend on the amount of servings and vegetables already in ones diet? The words increase and additional make your recommendations unclear. Are you trying to say that 10 servings of fruits and vegetables provide the ORAC units necessary to protect oxidation for every 2.5 grams of EPA DHA? Lastly, it isn’t what you take, it’s what you absorb and oral consumption of polyphenols is very different from in vitro studies. To date, I am unaware of any studies that show beneficial effects of polyphenols following ingestion. If there are such studies citations would be most appreciated.

    Genes Nutr. 2010 March; 5(1): 75–87.
    Published online 2009 October 20. doi: 10.1007/s12263-009-0148-z.

    A substantial and growing consumer demand exists for plant-based functional foods that improve general health and wellbeing. Amongst consumed phytochemicals, the polyphenolic compounds tend to be the most bioactive. Many commonly consumed polyphenols have been shown to have specific and potent health-promoting activities when assessed by high-throughput in vitro assays and when administered to experimental animals by injection. However, very few have been shown to have any beneficial effects in animals or man when orally consumed, because of the poor bioavailability exhibited by most polyphenols following the ingestion. Consumed polyphenols, like most pharmaceuticals, are regarded as xenobiotics by the body and must overcome many barriers, including extensive enzymatic and chemical modification during digestion and absorption, to reach their site(s) of action. This is especially true for polyphenols targeting the brain, which is protected by the tightly regulated blood–brain barrier. Interestingly, many polyphenols are also known to specifically modify some of the metabolic and transport processes that govern bioavailability. Therefore, the opportunity exists to increase the bioactivity of beneficial polyphenols by designing specific synergistic interactions with polyphenols that improve their oral bioavailability. This hypothesis and review paper will discuss some of the endogenous systems that limit the bioavailability of ingested polyphenols to the body and the brain, and the means by which bioavailability may be improved by specifically designing synergies between orally consumed polyphenols.

    • I make the assumption that anyone following the Zone diet will be consuming about 10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day. That’s a baseline. If one is supplementing with additional EPA and DHA then there will be requirement for even more polyphenols to protect the additional omega-3 fatty acids from oxidation. Obviously eating an additional 10 servings of vegetables and fruits is a difficult task. That’s why I recommend supplemental polyphenols with the supplemental EPA and DHA.

      As I pointed out in an earlier blog, I believe a widely overlooked benefit of polyphenols is the reduction of the inflammatory load generated by the 100 trillion bacteria in the gut. This will lessen the inflammatory load on the overall system.

  3. Dr. Brasky recently published data from Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial in the American Journal of Epidemiology which involved 19000 men showing men with high DHA levels are 2.5 times more likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer compared to men with low/normal DHA levels. Also strangely it showed the agressive cancer was 50 per cent lower in men with high blood levels of unhealthy trans fats. So appears the conclusion is that Omega 3s clearly may not be the best supplement to take. So I’m wondering how can Dr. Sears square those results.

    • You have posted this mis-information before and it was answered but you keep trying to put a monkey wrench into the information highway machinery.Give up.We know the oils they used were just like the vitamin e the researchers for big pharma is using to discredit vitamin e.Maybe you work for big pharma but how would any of us know that?Put up some creditials and put some references so we can look at the real data and not just take your word at face value.Your advice is worth as much as we paid for it:Nothing.

  4. Sorry. I am still not clear. Can you clarify what you mean by supplementing with additional EPA/DHA? Do you mean beyond whole food sources of EPA/DHA, or are you assuming that anyone following the Zone is already taking a certain level of fish oil?

    Also, can you provide research to support oral consumption of polyphenols? I respect your belief that polyphenols reduce inflammatory load, but I am keenly interested in supporting research. I am perplexed given all the hype about the benefits of polyphenols and the marketing of ORAC scores when the study I cite states “very few have been shown to have any beneficial effects in animals or man when orally consumed, because of the poor bioavailability exhibited by most polyphenols following the ingestion.” Given this, I am wondering if I am doing more harm than good taking my Zone fish oil.

  5. Sandy,
    Whether Dr. Sears is right or wrong or whether or not the studies you cited are right or wrong are inconsequential unless you know for sure your own personal inflammatory score. Hence, you should be tested for inflammation. Then, by knowing how much internal inflammation you have, you can determine your own course of action. I’d be willing to bet the studies you cited are flawed.
    I am a prostate cancer survivor following Dr. Sears recommendations and I had the whole blood fatty acids test done by Nutrasource Diagnostics Inc at the University of Guelph Research Park last July. My scores as follows:
    Omega Whole Blood Score – 11.27. Normal ranges are 2 to 10
    Omega3 Serum Equivalence Score – 12.77. Normal ranges are to 14
    EPA + DHA Serum Equivalence Score – 10.70. Normal ranges are 2 to 11.
    Omega 3 Index Red Blood Cell Equivalence score – 11.06. Normal ranges are 2 to 11.
    My SIP was 1.02
    Taking Dr. Sears Omega 3′s put my scores off the charts and I also take his polyphenols and sea health.
    Of course this is my word but get the test. Dr. Sears will be offering it as soon as the Federal bureaucracy gets off it’s butt.

  6. I take Juice Plus daily. Can your polyphenol supplement replace all of the benefits of Juice Plus?

  7. Jackobono,

    Thank you for your reply. My last blood test showed slightly elevated CRP levels which is why I am concerned. My diet is exceptional and includes 10-12 servings of organic fruits and vegetables. However, CRP is a sensitive test and results can be skewed because it is non-specific. Anything from a skinned knee to a small burn or cold can elevate test results. My triglycerides were 40 and cholesterol numbers and ratios good. You don’t mention your CRP levels in your test results and this is one of the standard measures of inflammation.

    In terms of flawed studies, all studies are flawed to varying degrees. They are conducted by humans with biases and who knowingly or unknowingly fail to consider relevant data that could alter research results. Then there is commercial bias which applies to pharma as well as the supplement industry. This is why I like to review the studies and draw my own conclusions. I am certainly no advocate for pharma, in fact quite the opposite, but they are required to meet the scientific gold standard of randomized controlled trials. Supplements are not. That being said, I take supplements with some good research behind them but not RCT’s. Fish oil among them. Polyphenols, not so sure.

  8. The clinical data on fish oils is robust. It is growing slowly for polyphenols. On a scale of 1 to 10 of clinical efficacy, I give vitamins and minerals a 1, Vitamin D a 2, polyphenols a 5, and fish oils a 12.

  9. I didn’t have a CRP test. I had the Whole Blood Fatty Acids test as recommended by Dr. Sears in his Anti-inflammation book. The CRP test is an inexpensive general test. The Whole Blood Fatty Acids test is extensive and expensive. I haven’t yet seen Dr. Sears say anything about C-Reacive Protein or the CRP test. With the results of the test I had, I see no need for a CRP test and am not at all concerned about getting one. Maybe Dr. Sears would like to comment on the CRP test and C-reactive protein.

  10. Sandy,
    You said the the CRP test is the “standard” test for inflammation.
    In comparison, as I mentioned I had prostate cancer, the “standard” test for prostate cancer is a PSA test. This is standard. If PSA is elevated, a biopsy is recommended. I classify the Whole Blood Fatty Acids Test in the same catagory as a biopspy for prostate cancer. After a biospy, one would not get another standard PSA test. Moreover, after getting a Whole Blood Fatty Acids test, one would not need a CRP test.
    BTW, all indications show I am cancer free today and I give a lot of thanks to Dr. Sears and his team.

  11. Jackobono,

    That is wonderful news! I was just surprised that CRP levels are not being monitored because it has become a universal measure of inflammation. I would like to hear Dr. Sears opinion on the value of CRP testing, but this seems like a good question for your doctor.

    • CRP is a relatively insensitive downstream marker of cellular inflammation. The reason it is insensitive is that it can be dramatically elevated by minor infections. This is why if it high, you have to come back in few weeks to take the test again.

      On the other hand, the AA/EPA is an upstream marker of cellular inflammation. It becomes elevated many years before CRP increases. More importantly, it is highly reproducible. The recent JELIS study on 18,000 cardiovascular patients demonstrated that lowering the AA/EPA ratio dramatically reduces the likelihood of future cardiovascular events.

  12. Sandy,
    FYI, the standard test for cholesterol used to be a total cholesterol test. I can vividly remember the fear of having a total cholesterol of over 200. Then along came HDL and LDL. Now many were relieved of the fear when having a total high cholesterol by subtracing the good HDL from the bad LDL. Funny how standards change. The total PSA test is about the same. Whenever I have my blood tested for total PSA, I make sure they also test my “free” PSA. You can do a search and learn more about this free PSA test and how it can lower the number of the total PSA.
    I am a veteran. I have a clinical VA doctor who refers me to a VA specialist accordingly.My cancer radiation treatments were done at a VA hospital.

  13. Great read. I didn’t know that it took omega 3 fatty acids to lose weight or that omega 3 fatty acids were prone to oxidation upon entering the body. I also didn’t know that one was supposed to eat 10 servings of fruits and veggies daily; I thought it was only five. Thank you so much much for posting such an insightful and informative blog.

    If any of you are interested in a special deal I’m doing for those looking to lose weight, check out my sight at :)

  14. I just want to ask a question. My sister we’re been taking fish oil supplements for about 4 months right now, and one of the reasons why she takes that supplement is to loss weight. But up to now we don’t see any improvement on her weight. Incorporate with taking fish oil supplement, she also monitor her diet, sleep and exercise. Why there’s no effect on her that supplement? Thanks for advance answer : )

    • The omega-3 fatty acids will help reduce the inflammation in the fats, but you still have to have the appropriate dietary foundation for consistent fat loss. That means the Zone diet. When you combine the Zone diet with the fish oil, the fat loss will be more consistent and more importantly, long-lasting.

  15. Hi Dr. Sears,

    I have found this article to be very helpful; however, I have gained weight as a result of being on Prednisone for approximately 12-13 years – been off of it now since about 2004. I have a lot of body fat around my waist and thighs that I can’t seem to access. Can the Zone diet help with reducing this type of weight gain or is there another way to access this fat? I have not yet found anything that seems to help me reduce it. Your suggestions would be very much appreciated.

    • The prednisone will have powerful effect on weight gain because of its impact on generating insulin resistance. The Zone diet was developed specifically for reducing the cellular inflammation that causes the insulin resistance. I would suggest a fairly strict Zone diet supplemented with about 5 grams of EPA and DHA to reduce the inflammation in the adipose tissue. With the reduction of that cellular inflammation, it will be much easier to release the stored fat to be converted into chemical energy.

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