As many as 70% of people with diabetes are estimated to have diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), a condition that can cause symptoms ranging from pain, tingling, and numbness to gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying) and sexual dysfunction. But according to a new mouse study from the VA Medical Center in Iowa City, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil supplements may be able to reverse some of the nerve damage of the condition.
Previous research into obesity and diabetes has found improved blood sugar levels and liver function and reduced inflammation in those treated with omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists have attributed these benefits to protective molecules, one type of which is called resolvins, that the body produces from the fats.
To determine the effects of either fish oil supplements or treatment with resolvins on diabetic neuropathy in mice with Type 2 diabetes, researchers compared three groups of mice. One group of mice with diabetes was fed a high-fat diet and given daily injections of resolvin, one group with diabetes was fed a high-fat diet in which half of the fats came from the oil of menhaden fish, and one group was comprised of nondiabetic mice that served as a control.
The researchers found that mice with diabetes that had not received treatment had a diminished sense of touch in their paws and fewer nerves in their eyes. And while fish oil or resolvin did not improve blood glucose levels in the diabetic mice, both treatments did improve nerve health, increasing the amount of feeling in the animals’ paws, and stimulate nerve cell growth.
“Even though a lot more work needs to be done, including clinical trials with human subjects, our animal studies suggest that fish oil can reverse some of the harmful effects of diabetes on the nerves,” notes lead study author Mark A. Yorek, PhD. “Fish oil supplements are considered very safe and could be easily translated into everyday care. Fish oil would be easy to take, like a vitamin, and should have few side effects when combined with other medications.”
The researchers plan to do more animal studies to demonstrate that fish oil can reverse harm from neuropathy even after a long period of poorly controlled blood sugar, then to begin studies in people with diabetic nerve damage.
For more information, read the article “Fish Oil May Help With Diabetic Neuropathy” or see the study’s abstract in the Journal of Neurophysiology. And to learn about coping with neuropathy, see the article “Controlling Neuropathic Pain: Tips From an Occupational Therapist.”
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