Omega-3s reduce diabetes risk in children, study says

by Staff
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DENVER — New research suggests that children at risk for type-1 diabetes may be able to reduce their risk for developing the disease by consuming omega-3 fatty acids.

Researchers at the University of Colorado and University of Florida found in the study of nearly 1,800 children that consumption of omega-3s helped reduce the risk of the children’s bodies from attacking insulin-producing cells.

"What these results say is that you may now be able to add back through the diet these essential omega-3 fatty acids, and then they will be utilized by the body to generate its own set of protective molecules that help to instruct the immune cells in the local environment not to attack the insulin-producing islets cells in the pancreas," said Charles Serhan, M.D., director of the Center for Experimental Therapeutics and Reperfusion Injury at Harvard Medical School. "These are very powerful and potentially very important results."

The results of the study have been published in the Sept. 26 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The children studied were all enrolled in the Denver-based Diabetes Autoimmunity Study in the Young, were all at risk for type-1 diabetes and were surveyed until they were around 6 years old. The children’s parents reported what the children ate, such as how often they had canned tuna, dark-meat fish such as salmon, other fish, shrimp, lobster and scallops, and what kind of fat was used in cooking.

The children also had blood samples taken to test for the presence of autoantibodies. Among a sample of 244 children, Nancy J. Szabo, Ph.D. director of the Analytical Toxicology Core Laboratory at U.F.’s College of Veterinary medicine, found encouraging results in her analysis.

"Kids who had higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids had a significant reduction in the risk of development of autoantibodies," said Michael Clare-Salzler, M.D., Stetson chair in experimental pathology and the U.F.’s College of Medicine.

Mr. Clare-Salzler said the risk of developing the autoantibodies also went down as the concentration of omega-3 fatty acids rose in the red blood cells. He also said omega-3s support production of anti-inflammatory molecules that may quell an immune attack on insulin-producing cells.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Colorado’s Diabetes Endocrine Research Center.

Continuing studies into the same topic will explore whether babies who receive a dietary supplement in DHA omega-3 fatty acid will show fewer signs of inflammation. Another study will see if DHA safeguards infants and children from the development of autoantibodies that lead to diabetes compared with babies who have more standard diets. If the results are affirmative, it could lead to widespread dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids from a very early age, the authors of the study said.

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