There are three types of fat call in the body - "white" cells store fat in order to maintain energy supply, while "brown" cells metabolise fat and keep down weight.
A third type of fat cell called "beige" cells which have recently been found in humans and mice function much like brown cells.
‘Good’ fat cells starts to decrease around middle-age
The number of these ‘good’ fat cells starts to decrease around middle-age which means proportionately the number of 'bad' fat cells increases. Bad fat cells absorb additional calories, storing them in big bellies, love handles and saddlebag thighs. Conversely, good fat cells specialise in burning off calories and generating heat within the body to keep it at a stable temperature.
Fish oils transform bad fat cells into good fat cells
A team of Japanese academics have found that fish oil activates receptors in the gut which fire up the sympathetic nervous system and transform white fat cells into beige fat cells.
This should come as particularly welcome news at this time of time given that many of us have ditched the diet over Christmas in favour of indulging in festive delicacies and too much booze.
Professor Teruo Kawada, who led the study at Kyoto University, said: "We knew from previous research that fish oil has tremendous health benefits, including the prevention of fat accumulation.
So the research team tested whether fish oil and an increase in beige cells could be related.
The study looked at the weight of mice fed fatty food for four months. When their food was supplemented with fish oil they gained 5 to 10 per cent less weight and 15 to 25 per cent less fat compared to those not given the oil supplement.
High doses of DHA and EHA, compounds found in omega-3 oils, were particularly beneficial, according to the journal Scientific Reports.
New research supports health benefits linked to Mediterranean diet
These findings could help shed light on why people from places like Japan, who have fish-rich diets, tend to have exceptionally long lives.
Kawada further commented: "People have long said that food from Japan and the Mediterranean contribute to longevity, but why these cuisines are beneficial was up for debate. Now we have better insight into why that may be."
Omega-3 fats, which are particularly abundant in oily fish such as herring, mackerel, and salmon, are already credited with a host of health benefits, from keeping high blood pressure at bay to helping ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
Consider a supplement
According to latest estimates from Public Health England, two thirds of adults and a quarter of children between 2 and 10 years old are now overweight or obese. Obese children are more likely to become overweight adults and to suffer premature ill health and mortality, and by 2034, 70% of adults in the UK are expected to be overweight or obese.
The NHS says we should all eat fish twice a week, including one portion of oily fish. However if you're one of many health conscious but time-pressed Britons you may rather pop a pill in the form of an omega-3 supplement.