Pregnant or nursing mothers should include omega-3 foods such as fish in their diet to reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes in children.
New research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for Research on Diabetes) suggests that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), mainly derived from fish in maternal diets during pregnancy or breastfeeding, may help protect infants High Type Risk 1 Diabetes (T1D) may contribute to the development of the disease.
If confirmed, it could mean that increasing fish-derived fatty acid intake and length of breastfeeding may have beneficial effects by decreasing the autoimmune reactions that lead to T1D.
More than 20 million people worldwide are affected by T1D – an autoimmune disease in which the immune system turns the body on and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
The subclinical disease process can be demonstrated in asymptomatic individuals by identifying autoantibodies that develop in infancy or early childhood.
Fatty acids have been shown to alter the immune system and inflammatory responses, and may play a role in the development of autoimmunity associated with type 1 diabetes. However, previous evidence has not been conclusive.
In this new study, Dr. Sari Niinisto of the National Institute of Health and Social Welfare in Helsinki, Finland and colleagues asked whether serum fatty acid levels in infancy are related to the development of autoimmunity in children with an increased genetic risk for developing T1D from Finland. Type 1 Diabetes Prediction and Prevention Study “.
In particular, they investigated whether particularly high omega-3 PUFA levels reduce the risk of autoimmune reactions associated with clinical diseases.
Between 1997 and 2004, 7,782 genetically predisposed newborns were monitored for islet cell autoantibodies, with blood samples being taken at regular intervals between the ages of 3 and 24 months and then annually up to the age of 15 to determine islet autoimmunity.
Questionnaires and food diaries were used to record breastfeeding and the use of formulas – the main dietary sources of fatty acids in early childhood. 240 infants who developed islet autoimmunity (and 480 matched control children) had their total serum fatty acid composition analyzed on samples taken at 3 and 6 months of age.
The research team also looked at these positive cases for previous signs of insulin and glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) autoantibodies – both closely related to the development of type 1 diabetes.
The researchers also found that the fatty acid status in infants strongly reflected the type of milk they fed. (Shutterstock)
The results showed that high serum levels of fish-derived fatty acids (docosahexaenoic acid; DHA and docosapentaenoic acid; DPA) were associated with a lower risk of early (insulin) autoimmunity. However, high serum alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) levels and high arachidonic acid (AA): DHA and omega 6: omega 3 PUFA ratios were associated with a higher risk.
The researchers also found that the fatty acid status in infants strongly reflected the type of milk they fed. Breast-fed infants had higher serum levels of fatty acids (e.g., pentadecanoic acid, palmitic acid, DPA, and DHA), which were associated with a lower risk of autoimmunity associated with type 1 diabetes compared to non-breast-fed infants. The amount of breast milk consumed further reduced the risk, while the amount of the cow’s milk-based formula was associated with a higher risk of developing previous (insulin) autoimmunity.
Despite the relatively small number of cases of insulin and GAD autoimmunity, the study found a number of clear associations between fatty acid levels in infancy and autoimmunity associated with type 1 diabetes.
These were not affected when the researchers considered other potential variables such as familial diabetes, maternal upbringing, and amount of cow’s milk in the diet.
The results point to new ways to combat type 1 diabetes. However, the authors caution that an association does not imply causation, and they say more studies are needed to confirm whether fatty acids can protect children from the autoimmune reactions that can trigger type 1 diabetes.
However, they add: “[Our] The results support the view that breastfeeding or some components of breast milk, including fatty acids, are protective, especially in early autoimmunity …[and] This long-chain omega-3 status in the first few months, at a time when the immune system is maturing and being programmed, is crucial. ”
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