A fishy New Year's Resolution: What you can do about your health

Find out more about Prof. Noreen’s research on fish oil and body composition below.
What you can do about your health

If you are one of the millions of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution to get healthier in 2012, you need to know more about a Gettysburg College prof’s research on the benefits of fish oil.

Health sciences Prof. Eric Noreen found that fat stores in the body can be reduced by taking fish oil supplements.

In addition to his work on fish oil’s ability to change body composition, Noreen continues to research the benefits of fish oil, including its ability to lower blood pressure and decrease bone breakdown.

Find out more about Prof. Noreen’s research on fish oil and body composition below.

Fish oil is supposed to help with everything from heart disease to arthritis, but a Gettysburg College professor and his students decided to dig a little deeper.

Can fish oil reduce fat stores in the body? Health Sciences Prof. Eric Noreen enlisted four students and a fellow faculty member to find out. Their research resulted in an article that appeared in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

"This study was a great opportunity for me as a health sciences major to participate in relevant and current research," said Lindsay Averill ‘11, a native of LaGrange, N.Y. "I found that if, as a student, I put some effort into the study, I really got a lot out of the experience. I'm very appreciative of Dr. Noreen for giving me the opportunity."

"The students were involved in some capacity from beginning to end," noted Noreen. "After training, they really did the majority of the data collection along with preliminary analysis and presentations on the study."

"There is limited research that has specifically looked at fish oil's effects on body composition," added Noreen. "I wanted to build on that previous research and make connections to cortisol production."

Increased cortisol, a stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland, is connected to obesity. Previous research suggested that fish oil could reduce cortisol, thereby leading Noreen to suspect that fish oil could decrease body fat. To help prove this point, he asked his health sciences colleague Prof. Josef Brandauer, to lend his expertise for analysis of the cortisol samples.

Also aiding the research effort were students Michael Sass '10, Megan Crowe '10, Vanessa Pabon '10, and Averill.

After identifying a group of healthy adults in the College and surrounding community, Noreen, who earned a Ph.D. from The University of Western Ontario in 2004, divided them into two study groups. One group regularly took fish oil supplements rich in omega 3 fatty acids; the other took capsules of safflower oil, which contains a different type of fat.

Participants maintained their normal diet and exercise routines throughout the study, and reported to the lab for monitoring of their resting metabolic rate, salivary cortisol levels, and body composition, the latter in the Bod Pod device.

"In my classes I learned a lot about what constitutes a good study," said Averill. "After taking part in this particular study, it is really evident to me that Dr. Noreen put together a great study with significant results."

Some of the six-week study's results were expected, Noreen said, but others were surprising.

As Noreen hypothesized, based on previous research, participants who took fish oil gained lean muscle and lost fat.

Similarly, Noreen said the fish oil group's cortisol levels tended to decrease over time, while the safflower group's levels didn't. This result was significant, as Noreen's study was the first to show a reduction in cortisol and body fat percentages with fish oil supplementation.

One aspect of the study's results did surprise Noreen, however. There were no changes to the resting metabolic rate of either group, despite his expectation that the fish oil group's might rise due to that group's increased lean muscle mass.

This study is not the end of research on the effects of fish oil for Noreen. His research sparked more questions about the benefits of fish oil supplements, and he continues to examine the data collected during this study and explore new ideas.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Nikki Rhoads, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Mon, 9 Jan 2012

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