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Lower diabetes risk found in men with higher omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013. An article published online on September 11, 2013 in the journal Diabetes Care reports an association between higher serum levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland's Institute of Public Health in Kuopio evaluated data from 2,212 men who participated in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. The subjects were between 42 and 60 years of age and were free of type 2 diabetes upon enrollment during 1984-1989. Blood samples were analyzed for the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and hair samples were analyzed for mercury, a common contaminant of fish that may modify the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on diabetes risk by increasing insulin resistance. The presence of type 2 diabetes was ascertained by fasting glucose and glucose tolerance testing conducted at four, eleven and twenty years after enrollment, and by examination of medical records.

Over a 19.3 year average follow-up, type 2 diabetes was diagnosed in 422 subjects. Men whose combined serum EPA, DPA and DHA were among the top 25% of participants had a risk of diabetes that was one-third lower than those whose levels were among the lowest fourth. When individual long-chain fatty acids were analyzed, DHA and DPA emerged as protective against type 2 diabetes. No effect mercury on diabetes risk was found.

According to authors Jyrki K. Virtanen, PhD and colleagues, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids' protective effect against diabetes could be due to their influence on adiposity, high blood pressure and disordered lipids, which are risk factors for the disease. They additionally have an anti-inflammatory effect and suppress gene expression involved in the metabolism of lipids. Furthermore, those who regularly eat fish may consume lower amounts of red meat, thereby reducing the intake of saturated fatty acids that are associated with an increased risk of impaired insulin sensitivity when consumed in excess. "Further research from diverse study populations and with objective biomarkers of exposure is needed to elucidate the role of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on the risk of type 2 diabetes," the authors conclude.

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High intake of red meat linked with risk of type 2 diabetes

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A review published in the July issue of Advances in Nutrition found an association between a high intake of red meat intake and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and advanced lipoxidation end products (ALEs) were proposed as mechanisms, with iron as the potential link. Iron facilitates the formation of AGEs and ALEs during the processing and cooking of red meat.

The review included previous findings linking AGEs to insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion. In an animal model, AGEs inhibited insulin-producing β cells.

The scientists conducting the review concluded, "Meta-analyses of body iron status as measured by serum ferritin demonstrate a positive relationship with the risk of type 2 diabetes … The level of contribution from iron to dietary protein oxidation and AGE development in processing is not known, but experimental laboratory testing of this should be carried out in meats with varying lipid contents and between red meat and other dietary AGEs."

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