Omega-3s Could Present Novel Treatment for Type 1 Diabetes

Omega-3 supplementation could lead to beta cell regeneration.

In the United States alone, approximately 1.25 million adults have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The condition is characterized by an immune attack on the body’s own insulin-producing beta cells, which results in a build-up of glucose in the blood.

The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, and there currently are no cures. While insulin can be effective in managing the condition, researchers have been searching for a way to inhibit the immune system from killing beta cells or finding a way to reverse the process.

A new study published by The Journal of Clinical Investigation found that adding omega-3 fatty acids to mice models of type 1 diabetes was effective.

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish, seafood, vegetable oils, and supplements. Multiple studies have shown that the fatty acids can protect against cardiovascular events and dementia. They are also crucial for organ function, and can improve muscle activity, reduce blood clots, and aid digestion and cell growth.

Since omega-3s can stop inflammation, the authors of the current study investigated whether they could also prevent or reduce disease activity.

Non-obese diabetic mice were either fed a regular diet or a diet enriched with polyunsaturated fatty acids. The authors also increased omega-3 levels through genetic modification. Every 3 months, the mice were tested for glucose and insulin tolerance and insulin serum.

Mice were also examined for insulitis, which is the infiltration of immune cells to the pancreas, and is common among patients with type 1 diabetes.

The authors discovered that mice fed the enriched diet showed significant improvement in the metabolism of glucose. Additionally, these mice were also less likely to develop type 1 diabetes compared with the mice fed the regular diet.

The omega-3 enriched diet was also found to reduce pro-inflammatory cell-signaling proteins and insulitis. Interestingly, the authors found that omega-3 was observed to lower levels of interferon gamma, interleukin 17, interleukin 6, and TNF-α, according to the study.

Among mice fed the omega-3 enriched diet, the investigators noted signs of beta cell regeneration, which suggests that the fatty acids could reverse diabetes.

The supplements and genetic therapy were observed to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels for more than 182 days, to stop the development of autoimmunity, to inhibit lymphocytes from entering the new islets in the pancreas, and to increase levels of beta cell markers, according to the study.

These findings suggest that omega-3s may be used as new treatment for patients with type 1 diabetes due to the overwhelming potential therapeutic effects observed, according to the authors.

"Our observations may also offer clinical guidance, in that those patients who are either at the early-onset stage of [type 1 diabetes] or have consistently had good management of their blood glucose levels may benefit the most from these interventions,” the authors concluded. “These treatment modalities, if cleared in safety evaluations, may potentially be helpful in the treatment of other types of autoimmune diseases as well."