Omega-3 fats may help stave off type 2 diabetes

Due to the growing number of Americans who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, some medical experts are recommending that people who are at risk for developing the condition consume a diabetic diet to help prevent or delay the onset of the disease.

However, it may seem strange that a type of fat is thought to be an important part of this kind of eating regimen.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people with the highest levels of three main omega-3 fatty acids have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared to those who did not have much of the fats in their system, according to an article published by Reuters.

The researchers measured levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are commonly found in fish, in a group of 3,000 participants. Another arm of the study focused on the amount of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that more than 43,000 subjects consumed in their regular diet. These omega-3 fatty acids are present in some plant foods, including flaxseed, canola oil and soy.

The study's results showed that 6.5 percent of the subjects who had the lowest levels of EPA and DHA developed type 2 diabetes, compared with only 5 percent of those who had the highest amounts of the fatty acids.

Furthermore, less than 4 percent of participants who consumed the most ALA were later diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, vs. 8.5 percent of those who ate the least. Therefore, the investigators determined that high ALA intake was associated with a 22 percent decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.

However, the researchers noted that it may not actually be the omega-3 fatty acids that are responsible for this reduced risk, but the healthy eating styles of the participants who consume the most omega-3s.

"Approaching your dietary intake with this 'big picture' approach should take care of the small things, like essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids," said the study's lead author Andrew Odegaard, quoted by the news provider.