May 11, 2017
2 min read

Omega-3 fatty acids may protect infants at risk for type 1 diabetes

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Fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids may be protective of type 1 diabetes in infants, whereas fatty acids found in breast milk were protectively associated with islet autoimmunity and primary insulin autoimmunity, according to findings published in Diabetologia.

“Fatty acids present in higher quantities in breast milk, as well as serum of breast-fed infants, were associated with decreased risk of islet autoimmunity or primary insulin autoimmunity, or both,” Sari Niinistö, MSc, of the department of public health solutions at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, and colleagues wrote. “Furthermore, the quantity of breast milk consumed was associated with decreased risk of primary insulin autoimmunity. The findings support the view that breast-feeding or some components of breast milk, including fatty acids, are protective, particularly against early autoimmunity.”

In a nested, case-control analyses, Niinistö and colleagues analyzed data from 240 infants with confirmed islet autoimmunity and 480 matched control infants at age 3 and 6 months included in the larger Finish Type 1 Diabetes Prediction and Prevention (DIPP) study, a database of children at increased genetic risk for developing type 1 diabetes. Children were recruited in 1997 and 2004. Infants with confirmed islet autoimmunity included 43 cases with primary insulin autoimmunity (86 matched seronegative controls) and 22 cases with primary glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) autoimmunity (42 matched seronegative controls).

Researchers assessed serum total fatty acid composition via gas chromatography for the cohort and obtained dietary information at age 3 and 6 months with 3-day food records and a dietary questionnaire, and used conditional logistic regression analysis to assess any associations between serum fatty acid proportions and islet autoimmunity, primary insulin autoimmunity or primary GAD autoimmunity.

Comparing breast-fed and nonbreast-fed infants, researchers observed differences in serum fatty acid status, reflecting differences in the fatty acid composition of the milk. Breast-fed infants had higher serum levels of myristic, stearic, conjugated linoleic, palmitoleic, cis-vaccenic,

dihomo-gamma-linolenic, arachidonic, eicosapentaenoic, docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, compared with nonbreast-fed infants, at age 3 and 6 months, as well as higher levels of serum pentadecanoic acid at age 3 months. The quantity of breast milk consumed per day was inversely associated with primary insulin autoimmunity, researchers noted, whereas the quantity of cow’s milk consumed per day was directly associated.

Researchers found that higher levels of serum pentadecanoic, palmitic, palmitoleic and docosahexaenoic acids decreased risk for islet autoimmunity, whereas higher levels of arachidonic/docosahexaenoic and omega-6/omega-3 acid ratios increased risk. Fatty acids were also associated with primary insulin autoimmunity; higher levels of palmitoleic acid, cis-vaccenic, arachidonic, docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids were associated with decreased risk, whereas higher alpha-linoleic acid and arachidonic/docosahexaenoic and omega-6/omega-3 acid ratios increased risk.

Fatty acid status in infancy was not associated with GAD autoimmunity, according to the researchers.

“Importantly, the current study was performed at a time when [docosahexaenoic acid] was not yet added to infant formulas in Finland, and therefore its intake was low in formula-fed infants,” the researchers wrote. “This created a relatively large contrast in exposure, which is an advantage.” – by Regina Schaffer

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.