Could Dietary Tweaks Ease Type 1 Diabetes?
Foods rich in amino and fatty acids may help preserve insulin production, study suggests
By Serena Gordon
FRIDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Eating foods that contain certain nutrients may help people with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes continue producing some insulin for as long as two years, a new study finds.
Although eating such foods doesn't alter the need to take insulin injections to treat type 1 diabetes, foods with leucine -- an amino acid -- and with omega-3 fatty acids may mean that less insulin is needed, according to the new research.
"After the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, a branch-chain amino acid and long-chain fatty acid were related to C-peptide levels, which are important because they've been shown to improve control of glucose, and maybe help prevent complications," said Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, the study's lead author.
This is "very early work," however, and parents of children with type 1 diabetes need to continue to follow their child's doctor's orders with regard to insulin and any other medications, said Mayer-Davis, professor of nutrition and medicine and interim chairwoman of the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Foods containing leucine include dairy products, meat, soy products, eggs, nuts and whole wheat. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, especially salmon.
At least one expert wasn't convinced that these foods could make a difference in insulin production in patients with type 1 diabetes.
"Nutrition in type 1 diabetes is very difficult to evaluate," said Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "It's possible that nutrition has a small effect, but people have been trying to connect nutrition to type 1 [diabetes] for more than 30 years. This study will not change my practice."
Type 1 diabetes is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and eventually destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Insulin is a hormone that's necessary to metabolize the carbohydrates in food. When carbohydrates are processed into glucose, insulin helps that glucose get into the body's cells to be used as fuel for the body and brain. Without insulin, glucose can't enter the cells and it builds up in the blood.
People with type 1 diabetes often continue making some insulin, though not enough to nourish their bodies properly, for months or even years after diagnosis, according to background information included in the study. The more beta cells that are preserved and still making insulin, the less the chance of serious complications, according to the study.
To see if nutritional factors might contribute to the preservation of beta cells, Mayer-Davis and her colleagues reviewed data on more than 1,300 young people up to 20 years old who had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Their average duration of diabetes was nearly 10 months.