For the 50 percent of diabetes patients who suffer from nerve damage, a supplement that not only slows the neuropathy, but actually reverses it, may sound a little, well, fishy. But that’s right on track with results of a study that suggests omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can slow or reverse nerve damage from diabetes.
Though the study was conducted on mice, researchers are hopeful for future applications in humans, according to a release about the research from the American Physiological Society.
Researchers fed diabetic mice a high-fat diet and treated them with a daily injection of resolvin, a compound made from the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), or gave them a high-fat diet in which half the fat came from fish oil. They compared results with healthy, non-diabetic mice.
The untreated diabetic mice had a diminished sense of touch in their paws, corresponding to fewer nerves in the skin and slower transmission of signals along the nerves. Their eyes also had fewer nerves. Though dietary fish oil and resolvin did not lower glucose levels, they improved nerve health in terms of density and sensory signal transmission. Resolvin stimulated nerve cells to grow, according to the researchers.
"Diabetic neuropathy is a very costly and debilitating complication of diabetes. It is the leading cause of foot ulcers and nontrauma-related amputations, and the impact of diabetic neuropathy on the patient and family are unmeasurable," lead investigator Mark Yorek of the VA Medical Center in Iowa City said in the release. Fish oil is an attractive approach because "supplements are considered very safe and could be easily translated into everyday care. Fish oil would be easy to take, like a vitamin, and should have few side effects when combined with other medications," he said.
“Even though a lot more work needs to be done, including clinical trials with human subjects, our animal studies suggest that fish oil can reverse some of the harmful effects of diabetes on the nerves,” said Yorek. His team intends to conduct more animal studies to demonstrate that fish oil treatment can reverse the harmful effects of diabetes on nerves even after a long period of poorly controlled diabetes. Then, they hope to begin human trials. Other recent research concerning nutritional treatment for diabetes shows promise. One study suggests eating four eggs every week may lower men’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 37 percent.