The role of fish oil reducing type 2 diabetes risk has researchers scratching their heads this week as omega-3 fatty acids appear to be more closely tied to this condition than previously thought.
Of course, this is not the first time a link between fish oil and diabetes has been looked at by researchers. In fact, based on the findings from several key studies The American Diabetes Association has recommended that individuals increase their intake because omega-3 increases good cholesterol in diabetics.
But what do we really know about the effects of fish oil on type 2 diabetes risk? Let’s take a look at some of the more popular questions.
What does the latest research claim?
Two studies, recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, claim there is indeed an observable relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and type 2 diabetes. The authors of the studies however, are both careful to point out that relationships found through research are just that – relationships.
What that boils down to is that changes in omega-3 fatty acid levels result in changes observed in type 2 diabetes.
A good way to think about the importance of such a finding is to consider fashion trends during summer months in warm climates. During the months of June and July, clothing appears to get shorter – women wear shorter skirts and men wear shorts.
What we are seeing is a relationship between fabric length and calendar months.
While it is conceivable that clothing makers simply run out of fabric during these months, another more likely explanation for this change is that people prefer shorter clothes because it keeps them cooler.
What does the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and type 2 diabetes look like?
One study looked specifically at the omega-3s present in the blood. This type of study is considered more reliable than studies that only rely on personal accounts of diet patterns. The reason is that people often have difficulty keeping accurate records of their own eating habits and are not likely to know the actual omega-3 content in the foods they eat.
So, looking at results from blood analyses, the researchers found that people with high levels of EPA and DHA – two well studied long-chain omega-3s found in fish oil – are about 33% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Even after ruling out other important risk reducing factors like exercise and weight, higher levels of omega-3s were still linked to lower type 2 diabetes risk.
The other study only factored in personal accounts of eating habits. These researchers also found that people with higher levels of omega-3 were less likely to develop the disease, but noted the biggest benefit was observed in people with higher levels of ALA, a short-chain omega-3. These people were associated with a 20% drop in diabetes risk.
Surprisingly, this second study found that omega-3s from marine sources like fish were not associated with any reduction in risk.
What can YOU make of these two conflicting reports?
Just like the summer months & fashion trends example from earlier, it’s not always easy to pinpoint cause from studies looking at relationships.
However, researchers caution against drawing hard conclusions from personal accounts of eating habits.
According to the authors, another possible reason for the discrepancies may actually lie in the fish preparation methods from those self-reporting. A fish-fry may be a great way to get more fish in your diet, but the vegetable oils commonly used in this cooking technique are high in omega-6 fatty acids which have a negative impact on health and effects of omega-3s.
What’s more, the researchers noted that there are likely a number of other nutrition factors at work that just aren’t fully understood yet.