Omega-3s may help obese individuals ward off type 2 diabetes
Eating more omega-3 fatty acids could help individuals avoid many of the chronic diseases that accompany obesity, including type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The researchers studied a group of Alaskan Eskimos because they have similar obesity rates to the rest of the U.S., yet diabetes is less common and their diets include much higher levels of omega-3s.
These nutrients, in particular docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, have been shown in previous investigations to reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. The researchers speculated that they may also support metabolic function.
For the study, they analyzed 330 individuals living in the Yukon Kushokwin Delta region of Alaska, measuring their blood for omega-3 levels and checking their medical records for signs of diabetes.
The researchers found that obese participants who had low levels of omega-3s had similar disease markers as the general population, including elevated cholesterol and C-reactive protein levels, which is a marker of inflammation and increases the risk of diabetes.
However, those who had the highest levels of omega-3s had significantly fewer markers of type 2 diabetes, despite the fact that many of them were overweight or obese.
"Interestingly, we found that obese persons with high blood levels of omega-3 fats had triglyceride and C-reactive protein concentrations that did not differ from those of normal-weight persons," said Zeina Makhoul, who led the investigation. "It appeared that high intakes of omega-3-rich seafood protected Eskimos from some of the harmful effects of obesity."
She added that genetic factors may also account for the lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes among the Eskimo group studied. However, she believes that the high levels of omega-3s in their diets may be one of the strongest factors.