Parents: Eating Omega-3s May Prevent Type 1 Diabetes

Healthnotes Newswire (November 15, 2007)—A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that among children at risk for developing type 1 diabetes, those whose diets contained more omega-3 fatty acids—found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and albacore tuna—were less likely to develop a precursor to type 1 diabetes.

Islet autoimmunity is an immune process where antibodies attack the insulin-secreting (islet) cells in the pancreas. The destruction of these cells leads to type 1 diabetes. Children are considered at risk for islet autoimmunity if they have a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes or if a blood test shows they have a specific gene associated with the disease.

The study, called the Diabetes Autoimmunity Study in the Young (DAISY) trial, examined the dietary habits of 1,770 children at increased risk for type 1 diabetes. Researchers then assessed the amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids in their diets (through use of a parent-reported food frequency questionnaire) and the subsequent development of islet autoimmunity. More omega-3 fatty acids in the diet was associated with a decreased risk of islet autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes. Dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids was not associated with islet autoimmunity risk.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and to reduce oxidative stress. These mechanisms may help protect against islet autoimmunity but the exact way in which omega-3 fatty acids may protect against type 1 diabetes is not known.

“Our study suggests that in the future, after more research has been done, we may be able to develop nutritional-based interventions to prevent type 1 diabetes,” said Jill Norris, MPH, PhD, lead author of the study and professor of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center. “However, it is important to note that because our study is the first study to find this, our findings are preliminary, and should be interpreted with caution until additional research is done.”

(JAMA 2007;298:1420–8)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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