Food and Behaviour Research

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Substituting dietary linoleic acid with alpha-linolenic acid improves insulin sensitivity in sucrose fed rats.

Ghafoorunissa, Ibrahim A, Natarajan S. (2005) Biochim Biophys Acta. 1733(1) 67-75. 

Web URL: View this abstract via PubMed here


This study describes the effect of substituting dietary linoleic acid (18:2 n-6) with alpha-linolenic acid (18:3 n-3) on sucrose-induced insulin resistance (IR).

Wistar NIN male weanling rats were fed casein based diet containing 22 energy percent (en%) fat with approximately 6, 9 and 7 en% saturated fatty acids (SFA), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) respectively for 3 months. IR was induced by replacing starch (ST) with sucrose (SU). Blends of groundnut, palmolein, and linseed oil in different proportions furnished the following levels of 18:3 n-3 (g/100 g diet) and 18:2 n-6/18:3 n-3 ratios respectively: ST-220 (0.014, 220), SU-220 (0.014, 220), SU-50 (0.06, 50), SU-10 (0.27, 10) and SU-2 (1.1, 2).

The results showed IR in the sucrose fed group (SU-220) as evidenced by increase in fasting plasma insulin and area under the curve (AUC) of insulin in response to oral glucose load. In SU-220, the increase in adipocyte plasma membrane cholesterol/phospholipid ratio was associated with a decrease in fluidity, insulin stimulated glucose transport, antilipolytic effect of insulin and increase in basal and norepinephrine stimulated lipolysis in adipocytes.

In SU-50, sucrose induced alterations in adipocyte lipolysis and antilipolysis were normalized. However, in SU-2, partial corrections in plasma insulin, AUC of insulin and adipocyte insulin stimulated glucose transport were observed. Further, plasma triglycerides and cholesterol decreased in SU-2.

In diaphragm phospholipids, the observed dose dependent increase in long chain (LC) n-3 PUFA was associated with a decrease in LC-n-6 PUFA but insulin stimulated glucose transport increased only in SU-2.

Thus, this study shows that the substitution of one-third of dietary 18:2 n-6 with 18:3 n-3 (SU-2) results in lowered blood lipid levels and increases peripheral insulin sensitivity, possibly due to the resulting high LCn-3 PUFA levels in target tissues of insulin action.

These findings suggest a role for 18:3 n-3 in the prevention of insulin resistant states. The current recommendation to increase 18:3 n-3 intake for reducing cardiovascular risk may also be beneficial for preventing IR in humans.


Modern western-type diets typically contain vegetable oils that are very much richer in omega-6 LA than omega-3 ALA.

This animal study shows that replacing some of this omega-6 LA with omega-3 ALA increases sensitivity to insulin, and is therefore likely to be beneficial to the prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes.