Essential fatty acids (like those found in fish) help activate fat-burning genes. Nicholas Perricone, M.D., author of Forever Young: The Science of Nutrigenomics for Glowing, Wrinkle-Free Skin and Radiant Health at Every Age, explains how.
When I was young, I could eat as much as I wanted and not gain any weight. My body would throw off a tremendous amount of body heat after a meal. This process is known as postprandial thermogenesis, which means the production of heat after eating. It is no coincidence that overweight people have very little postprandial thermogenesis. I noticed that as I got older, I started to put on weight; at the same time, the amount of heat my body dissipated after a meal decreased significantly. I began a quest to understand what was happening on a biochemical level.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
I learned that food calories can be burned in the mitochondria for production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a high-energy phosphate molecule used to store and release energy for work within the body. This entire process is known as oxidative phosphorylation.
Food can be stored as body fat (triglycerides in adipose tissue) or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Glycogen is the form in which foods are stored in the body as energy. If we can “uncouple” the oxidation from the phosphorylation, food calories can be burned off by thermogenesis.
Thermogenesis (body heat) bypasses the ATP-mediated energy. If the majority of the food we eat can be transformed into body heat, we stay thin with low body fat stores.
When I entered medical school, I was searching for a natural agent to uncouple the oxidation from the phosphorylation as a possible strategy for weight loss. Unfortunately, the uncoupling agents that I found were toxic — but I never gave up trying.
Eventually I found that essential fatty acids, such as the omega-3s found in fish oil, chia seeds, and cold-water fish such as salmon and sardines, could uncouple oxidative phosphorylation. They do this through the PPARs discussed above, which partition energy so that it is not stored as fat. They also downregulate enzymes that synthesize fat. Thus, essential fatty acids can affect gene expression by activating PPARs that turn on the fat-burning genes.
Omega-3s produce a protein known as uncoupling protein 3, which uncouples oxidative phosphorylation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicholas Perricone, M.D., author of Forever Young: The Science of Nutrigenomics for Glowing, Wrinkle-Free Skin and Radiant Health at Every Age (Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Nicholas Perricone), is also the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Wrinkle Cure, The Perricone Prescription, and The Perricone Promise, as well as The Clear Skin Prescription; Ageless Face, Ageless Mind; The Perricone Weight Loss Diet; Dr. Perricone’s 7 Secrets to Beauty; and Health and Longevity. Visit the author’s website and follow him on Twitter.