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Could Dietary Tweaks Ease Type 1 Diabetes?

Foods rich in amino and fatty acids may help preserve insulin production, study suggests

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Nutritional information was gathered from participants and mothers, including information on the consumption of foods containing leucine. Blood samples were analyzed for nutrients such as vitamin D and fatty acids. Blood samples also were used to measure the amount of C-peptide, which is a byproduct of insulin production.

After two years, the researchers found that leucine and omega-3 fatty acids were significantly associated with higher levels of C-peptide.

Vitamin D, which has long been suspected to be somewhat protective against type 1 diabetes, was linked to lower levels of C-peptide in this study. Mayer-Davis said she feels this finding may have been due to chance, especially since it isn't consistent with previous research.

Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids appeared to have a linear relationship with the preservation of beta cell function, Mayer-Davis said. That means the more omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, the greater the likelihood of higher levels of C-peptide.

"It's possible that there are approaches that may improve the ability to produce insulin after diagnosis," Mayer-Davis said. "Within the context of a healthy diet, dairy products, high-protein foods and salmon may help. But parents shouldn't expect that these foods will be a miracle. Their children will still need insulin."

For his part, Zonszein said, "Type 1 is a very complex disease. I think this needs to be studied more, but I wouldn't recommend dietary changes now. I think the potential mechanism of action needs to be studied. But changing diets dramatically, especially in kids, can dramatically change the flora [such as bacteria] in the gut, which may create other problems."

Mayer-Davis agreed that more research is needed, and she said she hopes other scientists look into this connection.

Asked if this information could benefit children or adults with type 2 diabetes, Zonszein said it's impossible to know from this study. Mayer-Davis noted, however, that previous research on animals with type 2 disease is one of the factors that initially sparked their interest in this nutrient.

Results of the study appear in the July issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

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