DIABETES
September 21, 2010

Omega-3's and Diabetes

Researchers show how these beneficial little fats reduce inflammation in fat cells and could help stave off diabetes.

Omega-3 fatty acids are in the news a lot these days, and perhaps for good reason. They are advertised helping the body in a variety of ways, from reducing inflammation to helping treat depression. While the jury is still out on whether some of these ideas really hold true, there is increasing evidence that omega-3’s do offer some serious health benefits. A new study from UC San Diego shows how the little fats may reduce the type of chronic inflammation that can lead to diabetes.

The omega-3 fats having the best effect in the study were docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are the main fats in fish oil.

The researchers studied obese mice who enjoyed a high fat diet (in other words, the mice were on the road to inflammation, insulin resistance, and possibly diabetes). Some of the mice were regular old lab mice, and some were bred to lack an omega-3 receptor on two different kinds of cells — fat cells and macrophages. Macrophages are immune system cells that normally clear out debris and bacteria, but they can also lead to inflammation under certain circumstances. Half of the mice in each group were fed omega-3s, and some went without.

In the normal mice, eating omega-3 was linked to reduced inflammation and increased insulin sensitivity. But in the mice that lacked the omega-3 receptor, no differences in inflammation or insulin sensitivity were seen, suggesting that the receptor is indeed what’s behind the omega-3 effect.

The omega-3 fats having the best effect in the study were docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are the main fats in fish oil. One can take in these fats through fish oil supplements, or as one might guess, by eating fish every now and then. Though the study’s findings will need to be explored in humans, the researchers are excited to finally understand the cascade of events that occurs with omega-3 supplementation. It may not be a bad idea to add some healthy omega-3’s to the diet (within reason), since more and more research is coming in to support their important role in our health.

The study was published in the September 3, 2010 issue of Cell.

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