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New Reason to Like Omega-3 for Type 2 Diabetes

omega-3 for type 2 diabetes

A derivative of omega-3 fatty acids appears to have qualities that may help in the fight against type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. The discovery was made by a team of Canadian researchers who are already moving ahead to show the antidiabetic impact the molecule may have in people.

The natural molecule is called protectin DX (PDX), and one of its tasks is to trigger the manufacture and release of interleukin 6 (IL-6) in muscle cells. Interleukin 6 is a type of cytokine, which is a small protein that has a major role in cell signaling. IL-6 also is a myokine, which is a cytokine produced from muscle and whose levels rise when physical exercise is performed.

This rise in IL-6 is the key, because when IL-6 enters the bloodstream, it helps control glucose (sugar) levels in two ways:

  • It tells the liver to cut back on its production of glucose, and
  • It directly prompts the muscle cells to increase the amount of glucose they take in

The end result in one or both cases is a reduction in the amount of glucose in the blood, and that could benefit people who have type 2 diabetes. In a way, PDX mimics the effects of exercise, but as Professor Andre Marette, one of the study’s authors, warned, the omega-3 natural molecule is not a substitute or replacement for physical activity.

“Exercise has cardiovascular and other hormonal benefits that go well beyond its metabolic effects on the muscles,” Marette noted. For now, the research team has made all of its discoveries regarding PDX in mice and rats. In one experiment that used obese diabetic rats, the researchers found that PDX significantly improved the animals’ response to insulin.

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Marette has likened the ability of the omega-3 molecule derivative to improve control of glucose levels with that of “certain drugs currently prescribed to control glycemia.” Further research is necessary, however, to validate these findings and determine how the molecule may work in people.

Omega-3 fatty acids themselves have been shown to have a beneficial impact on type 2 diabetes. In a recent study from scientists in Finland, more than 2,200 men were followed for up to nearly 20 years. Of particular interest was their levels of omega-3 and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

An analysis of the men’s omega-3 concentrations showed that those who had the highest concentration had a 33 percent lower risk of getting a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes when compared with men who had the lowest concentrations.

The newest study on PDX suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may have more than one role in the battle against insulin resistance and diabetes. It remains to be seen how much of an impact omega-3 fatty acids and this new derivative molecule will have on managing the disease.

Virtanen JK et al. Serum omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of incident type 2 diabetes in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Diabetes Care 2014 Jan; 37(1): 189-96
White P et al. Protectin DX alleviates insulin resistance by activating a myokine-liver glucoregulatory axis. Nature Medicine 2014; DOI:10.1038/nm.3549

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