People with type 2 diabetes could one day be treated using a natural molecule derived from omega-3 fatty acids, a new study suggests.
Scientists have known for some time that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce insulin resistance, thereby lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or improving diabetes control in those already diagnosed with the disease.
In previous studies, a team of Canadian researchers found these effects were linked to a bioactive lipid called protectin D1. Following further investigation in mice, they discovered that another member of the same family named protectin DX (PDX) stimulates the production and release of interleukin 6 (IL-6) in muscle cells, a response that also occurs during exercise.
They explained that higher levels of this small protein (cytokine) are key, as once in the bloodstream, IL-6 controls helps regulated glucose levels in two ways.
“It signals to the liver to reduce glucose production and acts directly on the muscles to increase glucose uptake,” said Professor André Marette, one of the study’s authors and Scientific Director of Université Laval’s Institute of
Nutrition and Functional Foods.
By having these effects, PDX mimics some of the effects of physical exercise on blood glucose control, although Marette warned that that it should not be seen as a substitute for physical activity.
For their latest research, published in the journal Nature Medicine, Marette and colleagues used transgenic mice lacking the IL-6 gene to demonstrate the link between PDX and IL-6. PDX had very little effect on blood glucose regulatio, but in similar tests conducted on obese diabetic rats, PDX was shown to significantly improve the animals’ response to insulin (insulin sensitivity).
“The mechanism of action described for PDX represents a new therapeutic strategy for improving glucose control,” the researchers said, adding that its “efficacy may be comparable with that of certain drugs currently prescribed to control glycemia”.
Marette added that the next step is to demonstrate these findings in clinical trials and determine how PDX may work in humans.

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