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Help For Kids To Fight Diabetes?

Author: Tedd Mitchell, M.D.
Source:, November 11, 2007

New research suggests that fish oil may reduce a child’s risk of developing the disease.

A recent study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” may give hope to parents with kids at risk for developing type 1 diabetes. About 13,000 children are diagnosed each year with the disease, formerly known as juvenile-onset diabetes.

The cause of the problem is an attack by the person’s own immune system that destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas (islet cells), and treatment requires insulin therapy.

Research focused on therapies for type 1 diabetes includes studies evaluating treatments to keep islet cells healthy. This latest study, conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado at Denver, evaluated 1,770 children who were considered at risk for developing type 1 diabetes. Data were collected from 1994 to 2006, during which time 58 children developed abnormal immunity toward their islet cells.

But here’s what’s so intriguing about this study: Researchers also monitored the children’s intake of omega-3 fatty acids. They found an inverse relationship between the kids’ intake of omega-3 fatty acids and the development of immunity to islet cells. The ones who consumed more fish oil were less likely to develop the abnormal immune response associated with developing diabetes.

I call investigations like this “Hmm” studies because they make you think about a possible connection in a novel way. If this information can be reproduced in other prospective trials, we may find that something as simple as fish oil intake can reduce a child’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Given the high rate of complications, as well as the high cost of treating diabetes, simple solutions like this offer great hope.

Contributing Editor Tedd Mitchell, M.D., president and medical director of Dallas’ Cooper Clinic, writes HealthSmart every week.