Omega-3 fish oil supplements are not beneficial in type 2 diabetes, but they’re not harmful, either, according to new research from the University of East Anglia published in The BMJ.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat believed to have multiple health benefits. Previous studies have suggested they may potentially help prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes. Food sources of the fats include oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, and plant oils such as flaxseed, canola, and soybean oils.
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To evaluate the impact of omega-3 supplements on the development and treatment of type 2 diabetes, the World Health Organization (WHO) commissioned a review of 80 studies. A total of 58,000 participants were included, 4% of whom developed type 2 diabetes. Those who were randomly assigned to take the supplements had the same risk of being diagnosed as those in the control group who did not take fish oil supplements.
“What we did find is that there is no demonstrable value in ordinary people taking omega 3 oil supplements for the prevention or treatment of [type 2] diabetes” said joint first author Julii Brainard, PhD. “We would also have liked to find out whether taking more omega-3 might be useful in those people with low omega-3 intakes — as giving more omega-3 is more likely to be useful in adults with low intakes. But unfortunately most trials didn’t report omega-3 intake levels of participants at the start of the trial, so we still don’t know.”
According to Douglas Twenefour, deputy head of care of British nonprofit Diabetes UK, omega-3 fats are vital for overall health, and the best way to get them is through at least two servings of oily fish a week, rather than through supplements.
Want to learn more about omega-3 fats? Read “Are Omega-3 Fats Good for Diabetes?” and “Essential Fatty Acids: What You Need to Know (Part 1),” “Essential Fatty Acids: What You Need to Know (Part 2),” “Essential Fatty Acids: What You Need to Know (Part 3)” and “Essential Fatty Acids: What You Need to Know (Part 4).”
Senior Digital Editor for DiabetesSelfManagement.com, Fennell has 16 years’ experience specializing in diabetes and related health conditions. Based in New York City, she has a degree from Columbia University.
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Diane Fennell: Diane Fennell has been an editor at Diabetes Self-Management magazine since 2003. She is currently the Editorial Director. (Diane Fennell is not a medical professional.)
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