Diabetes and Omega-3’s

Diabetes, Omega-3 fatty acids Super FoodsReading, interpreting and understanding scientific literature can be tedious because the authors often find that their previous paper on the subject missed its mark or was completely wrong. Easy to do when you are blazing new trails; however, the caution they go through to cover their tracks oftentimes makes for difficult reading. Luc Djousse and his colleagues at the U of Washington reported in the May 18, 2011 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that, “With the use of objective biomarkers, long-chain omega 3 Fatty Acids (FAs) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) were not associated with a higher incidence of diabetes. Individuals with the highest concentrations of both types of FAs had lower risk of diabetes.”

Speed reading is absolutely out of place. Omega-3 fatty acids in the body help to control the inflammation process, which is a benefit because the start of the healing process—initiated by the omega-6 arachidonic acid—also involves the possibility of getting carried away with the exercise. Say you have a cut or abrasion. The key activity that ensues is to stop the loss of fluids – save the blood.  It is that process which tells the body to start the healing by sending white blood cells and platelets to the site of the wound and to agglomerate and close the exit door by swelling the tissues, which is also another way of looking at inflammation. To inflame can be life saving. The omega-3’s are then involved in the work of modulating the activity helping to ease the inflammation that comes with the correction process.

Fatty acids, especially those that are long and highly unsaturated, increase cell membrane fluidity and functionality. Fatty acids are essential to membrane activity at the location of hormone receptors. Insulin resistance in adult-onset diabetes is directly associated with fewer membrane enhancing long-chain fatty acids, largely due to impaired function of desaturase and elongase enzymes needed for a healthy membrane. Ruiz-Gutierrez 1993, “We have studied the fatty acid composition of erythrocyte membrane phospholipids in nine Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic patients and nine healthy control subjects. Cell membranes from the diabetic patients showed a marked decrease in the total amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids mainly at the expense of docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, and arachidonic acid C20:4n6”.

Cell membrane abnormalities in lipid content are found to be related to poor metabolic control, which is a characteristic of diabetes. Diet is a very important  factor, and interventions with dietary essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the correct ratio (found to be 4:1, omega-6:omega-3), can make a difference. Decsif  T., 2002, “Reduced availability of long-chain polyunsaturates in diabetic children suggests that an enhanced dietary supply of long-chain polyunsaturates may be beneficial”. Children with diabetes demonstrate a deficit of long-chain fatty acids, so incorporating them into a child’s diet is prudent. An unspoken benefit in the application of EFA’s to diabetes treatment is the decrease in triglyceride levels, themselves striking indicators of the potential for cardiovascular issues and very often appearing in persons with diabetes.

Herein resides the prolonged physiological support of the EFAs. For those who lack the efficient conversion of the omega-3 alpha linolenic acid from plant sources (notably flaxseeds and their oil) to EPA and DHA, fish oil may be a viable alternative. In fact the the FA conversion process with diabetes is almost non-existent, but also common with aging.

For quite some time the essential fatty acids have been misunderstood. Of the types of fatty acids, the omega-3’s have received the most publicity, having been applauded for positive health effects, principally, because over the last century the general population ate little fish and had little or no n-3s in the diet. Unless they were more or less health nuts, few did not have any exposure to omega 3s as in flax, and even if they did their ability to elevate up to EPA and DHA was minimal. Fish oil was the answer but the explosion that ensued caused over-consumption and still does.

Hence the comments of Djousse et al that n-3 FAs did not increase diabetes but if both the omega 6s and the 3 s were added together there was marked improvements. There is an inference that n-3s were of no benefit and needed the balance of both EFAs, which we applaud and so should you. Balance is paramount.


Djoussé L, Biggs ML, Lemaitre RN, King IB, Song X, Ix JH, Mukamal KJ, Siscovick DS, Mozaffarian D. Plasma omega-3 fatty acids and incident diabetes in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May 18.

Ruiz-Gutierrez V, Stiefel P, Villar J, García-Donas MA, Acosta D, Carneado J.  Cell membrane fatty acid composition in type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic patients: relationship with sodium transport abnormalities and metabolic control.  Diabetologia. 1993 Sep;36(9):850-6.

T. Decsif, H. Minda, R. Hermann, A. Kozári, É. Erhardt, I. Burus, Sz. Molnár and Gy. Soltész  Polyunsaturated fatty acids in plasma and erythrocyte membrane lipids of diabetic children  Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. 67(4); Oct 2002: 203-210

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

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