DENVER, COLORADO. Dietary factors have been implicated in the etiology of type 1 diabetes, a disease that frequently occurs during childhood. In a study from Norway, cod liver oil was implicated in preventing this type of diabetes, but it was unclear whether the effect was due to the omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D or some other constituent. In one study, Norris et al report on an observational study of dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids and the incidence of pancreatic islet autoimmunity (IA) in a group of children judged at high risk of type 1 diabetes because of family history or the presence of an identified genetic predisposition. One group studied consisted of children recruited between birth and 8 years of age who had strong family history of type 1 diabetes. A second group consisted of newborns who tested positive for genetic markers of susceptibility. The association between intake of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids and the incidence of IA was examined during the follow-up. It was found that higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with a significant decrease in the risk of IA in the group identified by family history. For the newborn group, the risk of IA was inversely associated with the omega-3 status assessed by a blood test. These associations were relatively strong and statistically significant. Omega-6 fatty acids were not found to beneficial or harmful in this context. The authors comment that that if these results are confirmed in an ongoing intervention study involving supplementation with DHA in utero and in infancy, then omega-3 fatty acids could become a mainstay for early intervention to safely prevent the development of type 1 diabetes in this high-risk group of children.
Norris, J.M. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Intake and Islet Autoimmunity in Children at Increased Risk for Type 1 Diabetes. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2007, Vol. 298, No. 12, pp. 1420-28