A new study has shown that sufficiently high intakes of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) might stop the body’s immune system from attacking its own beta cells and even reverse this process.
Previous research found that dietary intake of omega-3s, as found in oily fish and fish oil, is associated with a reduced risk of developing islet autoimmunity in children at increased genetic risk for type 1 diabetes.
Here, researchers at the Guangdong University of Technology, in China, tested whether higher levels of omega-3s could stop the progression of islet autoimmunity from escalating to type 1 diabetes.
They supplemented young mice with high levels of the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for 35 weeks.
In addition to that, they also increased the levels of omega-3s in these mice by way of a genetic modification that spontaneously convert certain substrates, like the omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA), into EPA.
Researchers compared these mice to two other groups of mice: one fed a regular diet and another given a diet supplemented with high levels of AA.
Looking at the mice’s nonfasting blood sugar levels between groups, 80 per cent or more of the mice either on the regular or high omega-6 diet went onto developing type 1 diabetes. In contrast, only 33 per cent of the mice fed an EPA/DHA-enriched diet did.
Another notable finding is that the DHA plus EPA group had a significantly reduced incidence of insulitis compared to mice on the AA or regular diet. Insulitis is where islet cells in the pancreas get infiltrated by immune cells called lymphocytes.
The destruction of beta cells is also known to be due to the secretion of powerful pro-inflammatory molecules (cytokines), which results revealed, EPA and DHA could inhibit.
Mice receiving EPA and DHA had lower levels of the cytokines interferon gamma, IL-6 and TNF alpha, while all these increased in mice on the omega-6 AA-enriched diet.
Larger trials in humans need be to done, but high dose omega-3 supplementation holds promise to restore immune balance and help maintain functional islets in type 1 diabetes.

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