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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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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.

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."

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