Newswise ? Researchers at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes and the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center (UCDHSC) School of Medicine have found that dietary omega-3 fatty acids could decrease the risk of diabetes autoimmunity, a precursor to type 1 diabetes. The findings will be published in the Sept. 26 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Type 1 diabetes develops when the body?s immune system mistakenly targets the pancreas, killing the cells that make insulin. Children who have an immediate relative with type 1 diabetes or who have specific genetic susceptibility markers are considered at risk for the disease.

The Diabetes Autoimmunity Study in the Young, or DAISY, follows children at an increased risk in the Denver Metropolitan area to learn what factors trigger the onset of type 1 diabetes.

Conducted between 1994 and 2006, the study followed 1,770 children at increased risk for type 1 diabetes to the average age of six years. The purpose was to examine whether higher consumption of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is associated with curbing the development of diabetes autoimmunity, which in turn could halt the onset of type 1 diabetes. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, flaxseed, canola and soybean oils as well as flaxseeds and walnuts.

Parents were surveyed annually about what their children ate and children were tested for specific antibodies in the blood that marked the destruction of the cells that make insulin (i.e. diabetes autoimmunity). In a subset of this population, the researchers also examined whether risk of diabetes autoimmunity was associated with omega-3 fatty acid content of red blood cell membranes, which is a marker of omega-3 fatty acid status.

Of the children followed, those who reported eating more omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to develop diabetes autoimmunity. The investigators also showed that omega-3 fatty acid content of red blood cell membranes was inversely associated with risk of diabetes autoimmunity.

Cell membranes require unsaturated fatty acids to maintain their structure and function. The DAISY study suggests that an increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids will lead to increased membrane concentration of these fatty acids, resulting in increased levels of anti-inflammatory compounds.

?Our study suggests that higher consumption of total omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of diabetes autoimmunity in children at an increased genetic risk of type 1 diabetes,? said Jill Norris, PhD, professor of preventive medicine and biometrics at the UCDHSC?s School of Medicine and lead author of the study. ?The additional finding that risk of diabetes autoimmunity is associated with a higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids in the red blood cell membranes further substantiates our results because this marker does not rely on reported dietary intake.?

Overall, 58 of the 1,770 children in the DAISY study developed diabetes autoimmunity during follow-up. Of these 58 children, 45 have either subsequently developed diabetes or more severe autoimmunity, as indicated by the presence of two or more autoantibodies.

?Given that our study population was selected for specific genetic and family history characteristics, our findings generally apply only to children at increased risk for type 1 diabetes,? said Norris. Norris and colleagues acknowledge that long-term follow-up and more detailed studies on omega-3 fatty acid intake are necessary to give a solid determination of the relationship with type 1 diabetes.

?Type 1 diabetes is the third most common chronic disease in children,? said Marian Rewers, MD, clinical director of the Barbara Davis Center and principal investigator of DAISY. ?Our hope is that with the knowledge gained from the DAISY study, we will be able to earlier treat and ultimately prevent diabetes autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes in today?s youth and in future generations of children.?

The School of Medicine faculty work to advance science and improve care as the physicians, educators and scientists at University of Colorado Hospital, The Children?s Hospital, Denver Health, National Jewish Medical and Research Center and the Veterans Administration Medical Center. The School is part of the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, one of three universities in the University of Colorado system.

Source: University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center

Released: Tue 25-Sep-2007, 17:00 ET

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