Omega-3 May Lower Type 1 Diabetes Risk
Diet Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Help Body Fight Inflammation That Leads to Diabetes
Sept. 25, 2007 -- Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fats may help keep high-risk
children from developing type 1 diabetes, early research suggests.
Dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with a lower incidence
of autoantibodies in the blood that signal the immune system to attack
insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, and
inflammation is believed to play a major role in the development of type 1
diabetes through destruction of these insulin-producing cells.
"The thinking is that omega-3 may increase the body's ability to fight
the inflammation that leads to type 1 diabetes," researcher Jill M. Norris,
MPH, PHD, tells WebMD.
The University of Colorado professor of preventive medicine adds that the
findings, while intriguing, do not prove omega-3-rich foods protect against
type 1 diabetes.
The study appears in the Sept. 27 issue of TheJournal of the
American Medical Association.
"This is a preliminary study," she says. "We really can't make
dietary recommendations based on these findings."
Omega-3, Diabetes Research
In adults, omega-3 rich diets are believed to lower cardiovascular risk, and
in babies the fatty acid is believed to boost brain development.
A 2003 study from Norway was one of the first human trials to suggest a
protective role for omega-3 fatty acids in type 1 diabetes. Researchers
reported a lower incidence of omega-3-rich cod liver oil supplementation during
infancy in children with diabetes, compared to children without the
The newly published study included 1,770 children -- from birth to age 3 --
at increased risk for developing type 1 diabetes, followed for an average of
six years. These children either had a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes
or had genetic tests that showed increased risk.
Omega-3 intake was determined through annual food-frequency questionnaires.
Among other things, parents were asked how often their children ate canned tuna
and oily fish like salmon or mackerel. They were also asked about the oil they
used for home cooking.
Oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are among the best food
sources of omega-3s, but dark green vegetables and canola oil, sunflower oil,
and flaxseed oil are also good sources.
Increasingly, eggs, breads, juices, and other foods are being fortified with
Red blood cells from 244 children in the study were also tested for fatty
acid composition to confirm the questionnaire findings.
The research confirmed that children who reportedly had higher intakes of
omega-3 fatty acids also had less evidence of the autoantibodies associated
with progression to type 1 diabetes.
Plans for More Omega-3 Research
An interventional trial funded by the National Institutes of Health should
offer more clues about the link between diet and type 1 diabetes, especially
the role of omega-3 fatty acids.
The trial is designed to explore whether babies with a genetic
predisposition for developing type 1 diabetes show fewer signs of inflammation
when given supplements of the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),
An expanded version of the trial is planned to determine whether DHA
protects infants and children from the development of the autoantibodies that
lead to diabetes.
If researchers find a direct link between DHA supplementation and a
reduction in the inflammatory activity that leads to diabetes, omega-3
supplementation could become a major strategy for preventing the disease.
Michael Clare-Salzler, MD, who will lead the study, tells WebMD that many
questions must be answered before this happens.
"If supplementation does work, the timing may be critical," he says.
"That is what this trial is all about. We want to test this hypothesis that
if we get to babies early with anti-inflammatory therapy we can block the
development of these autoantibodies."