Omega-3 fats linked to lower diabetes risk

Published on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

People who get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in their diets may have lowered odds of developing type 2 diabetes, two new reports suggest.

In one study, of more than 3,000 older U.S. adults, researchers found that those with the highest blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) -- two omega-3s found in fatty fish—were about one-third less likely to develop diabetes over the next decade than their counterparts with the lowest levels.

In the other, researchers found that among 43,000 Singapore adults, those who got the most alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in their diets had a decreased diabetes risk. ALA is an omega-3 fat found in certain plant foods, including flaxseed, canola oil and soy.

But before anyone runs out to buy fish oil pills, researchers caution that their findings do not prove that omega-3 fats, themselves, fight diabetes. The fats may, for instance, be markers for some other aspect of the participants’ diet or lifestyle that influences diabetes risk.

People often hope there is a dietary “magic bullet” against disease, noted Andrew Odegaard of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, one of the researchers on the Singapore study.
He advised that people focus on getting plenty of healthy “whole foods” — especially fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich grains, legumes, vegetable oils and fish — instead of any single nutrient.

“Approaching your dietary intake with this ‘big picture’ approach should take care of the small things, like essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids,” Odegaard told Reuters Health in an email.

Neither of the new studies, which appear in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, proves that omega-3s directly lower diabetes risk.


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