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Healthy Diet Essentials for Patients with Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes, Children's Nutrition

Type 1 diabetes - previously known as juvenile diabetes because it is typically diagnosed in children and young adults and abbreviated as T1DM – is a condition where the body does not produce insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. Despite active research, there is no cure. Patients with Type 1 diabetes will need insulin therapy (by injection or pump) for the rest of their lives.

Every year in the United States, 13,000 children are diagnosed with T1DM and more than 1 million American kids and adults deal with the disease daily.
The goal of therapy for T1DM – just as with T2DM, the more common type of diabetes – is blood sugar management. Food (primarily carbohydrate) is broken down into glucose and other nutrients that are then absorbed into the bloodstream. Normally, the pancreas releases insulin, a hormone which works like a “key” that opens the cells and allows glucose in so the nutrients can be used as fuel. Too little insulin and glucose continues to circulate in the bloodstream where it can cause damage. Too much insulin, and the body suffers from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), a dangerous condition that can lead to loss of consciousness and seizure.

The cause of T1DM is still being investigated. Ultimately, something occurs that causes the body to destroy its own insulin-producing cells within the pancreas known as beta cells. One goal of research is finding a way to preserve beta-cell function in children with Type 1 Diabetes. Preservation of beta-cell function has been associated with better glucose control and less risk of complications.

Elizabeth Mayer-Davis MSPH PhD RD of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues have discovered that omega-3 fatty acids and the amino acid leucine may help preserve beta-cell function. Blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and leucine correlate with higher levels of C-peptide concentration, which is a measure of insulin production.

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“This represents a new direction for research to improve prognosis for type 1 diabetes," says Dr. Mayer-Davis.

While it is still too early to act on the results until they are replicated in further studies, the study shows that a healthy diet over and above carbohydrate intake is necessary for patients with Type 1 Diabetes.

Omega-3 fatty acids, primarily found in fish, have anti-inflammatory effects which can benefit kids by reducing the risk to chronic diseases later in life such as heart disease and arthritis. The nutrients are also essential for cognitive development. Other sources include flax, olive oil and some leafy greens.

Leucine works in the body to repair muscles, regulate blood sugar and provide the body with energy. It is also involved in the production of growth hormones. Sources of leucine include brown rice, beans, meat, nuts, soy flour and whole wheat.

Source reference:
Mayer-Davis EJ, et al "Nutritional Factors and Preservation of C-Peptide in Youth With Recently Diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes SEARCH Nutrition Ancillary Study" Diabetes Care 2013; 36:1842–1850.