Study sheds 'new light' on role of omega-3 in type 1 diabetes protection

By David Anderson

- Last updated on GMT

Study sheds 'new light' on role of omega-3 in type 1 diabetes protection
“New light” has been shed on the role of fatty acids and milk feeding in helping protect against type 1 diabetes and further testing could help prove that nutritional intervention can help prevent a disease which impacts millions across the world.

This is the verdict of one of the researchers on a research paper, which suggests that omega-3 might reduce children’s risk of type 1 diabetes.

The research, published in the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), was carried out at the National Institute of Health and Welfare, Helsinki.

It scrutinised whether serum fatty acid levels during childhood are linked to the development of autoimmunity among children at increased genetic risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Specifically, researchers scrutinised whether high levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids curtailed the risk of autoimmune responses associated with type 1 diabetes.

Prior to this research, it was thought that fatty acids could play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity, as they had shown to modulate the immune system and inflammatory reactions.

Nearly 8,000 children predisposed to type 1 diabetes tested

In total, 7,782 children predisposed to type 1 diabetes were recruited between 1997 and 2004.

The children were monitored for islet autoimmunity and blood samples were taken at regular intervals up to the age of 15.

The study found that fatty acids may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes and that fish-derived fatty acids may be protective, particularly during infancy, against the disease.

In particular, the results revealed that higher serum levels of fish-derived fatty acids were linked with a lower risk of early autoimmunity.

Furthermore, the research found that fatty acids consumed during breastfeeding may provide protection against type 1 diabetes.

Breastfed infants had higher serum levels of fatty acids linked with lower risk of type 1 diabetes-related autoimmunity in comparison to non-breastfed infants.

Speaking to NutraIngredients, Dr Sari Niinistö, an author on the research paper and senior researcher at Public Health Solutions, Nutrition Unit, Finland, said caution should be taken with the findings.

Causality must be proved​ 

“The study sheds new light on role of fatty acids and milk feeding in the development of the type 1 diabetes.

“However, these research results need to be confirmed in other prospective studies, and causality must be proven in clinical trial before any final conclusions can be drawn,”​ she told us.

She said that if the findings could be underscored by further research and that “causality was proved”​ then the findings would prove significant.

“It would be significant since the safe prevention of type 1 diabetes by early nutritional intervention would be possible,”​ she told us.

In the longer-term, the goal would be carry out a clinical randomised trial.

 “We are currently studying the associations between fatty acid status and risk of type 1 diabetes development in other prospective studies. If the present results are confirmed, the next step is to do a clinical randomised trial,”​ she told us.

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