September 29, 2007
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Might Reduce Risk Of Type 1 Diabetes

Juvenile onset type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease where the body's immune cells attack pancreatic cells that make insulin. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, appear to substantially reduce risk of type 1 diabetes.

Preliminary research suggests that in children at increased risk for type 1 diabetes, dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with a reduced risk of pancreatic islet autoimmunity, which is linked to the development of diabetes, according to an article in the Sept. 26 issue of JAMA.

“Type 1 diabetes mellitus is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreatic islets. Although it is not yet known what initiates the autoimmune process, it is likely that both genetic background and environmental factors contribute to the disease process,” the authors write. Certain dietary factors have been associated with the onset of type 1 diabetes as well as the autoimmune process that leads to the disease.

Jill M. Norris, M.P.H., Ph.D., of the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, Denver, and colleagues examined whether consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are associated with the development of pancreatic islet autoimmunity (IA; development of antibodies against the cells in pancreas that produce insulin) in children. The study, conducted between 1994 and 2006, included 1,770 children at increased risk for type 1 diabetes, defined as either possession of a high diabetes risk HLA (human leukocyte antigen) genotype or having a sibling or parent with type 1 diabetes. The average age at follow-up was 6.2 years. Islet autoimmunity was assessed in association with reported dietary intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids starting at age 1 year. Fish is the primary source of marine polyunsaturated fatty acids. Childhood diet was measured using a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ).

A case-cohort study (n = 244) was also conducted in which risk of IA by polyunsaturated fatty acid content of erythrocyte membranes (outer portion of the red blood cell) was examined.

Fifty-eight children became positive for IA during follow-up. Adjusting for HLA genotype, family history of type 1 diabetes, caloric intake, and total omega-6 fatty acid intake, total omega-3 fatty acid intake was inversely associated with IA risk (a 55 percent reduced risk). The association was strengthened when the definition of the outcome was limited to those positive for two or more autoantibodies. In the case-cohort study, omega-3 fatty acid content of erythrocyte membranes was associated with a 37 percent decreased risk of IA.

Children who eat fish are also getting more vitamin D and hence might have less auto-immune disease for that reason. It has long been noticed that in the United States the incidence of multiple sclerosis (such is very likely an auto-immune disorder) is higher at northern latitudes. Further north people spend more time in-doors and get less vitamin D made in their skin as a result of sunlight hitting their skin. So the effect here might not entirely come from the omega-3 fatty acids. Either way, this result is an argument for eating fish. The research on omega 3 fatty acids and chronic inflammatory diseases also supports the idea that fish oil delivers real benefit.

Both reported diets and blood tests correlated with measured autoimmune response.

Parents were surveyed annually about what their children ate and children were tested for specific antibodies in the blood that marked the destruction of the cells that make insulin (i.e. diabetes autoimmunity). In a subset of this population, the researchers also examined whether risk of diabetes autoimmunity was associated with omega-3 fatty acid content of red blood cell membranes, which is a marker of omega-3 fatty acid status.

Of the children followed, those who reported eating more omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to develop diabetes autoimmunity. The investigators also showed that omega-3 fatty acid content of red blood cell membranes was inversely associated with risk of diabetes autoimmunity.

I go out of my way to make sure I get enough omega 3 fatty acids and eat salmon several times a week. Suggest you do the same.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 September 29 11:50 AM  Aging Diet Studies

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