Eating fatty fish — those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including herring and sardines, salmon, mackerel, and anchovies — has long been linked to a variety of health benefits, including cardiovascular benefits like lower levels of triglycerides and a reduced risk for blood clots. When it comes to diabetes, consuming more fatty fish may reduce the risk for diabetic retinopathy (a condition in which tiny blood vessels in the eye become damaged) — the leading cause of new blindness in people ages 20 to 74 in the United States. Recently, researchers have also found that consuming more fatty fish may help prevent type 1 diabetes in people at high risk for the condition.
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In the latest study, researchers looked at the effects of eating sardines over 12 months in 152 adults at high risk for type 2 diabetes. Participants all had prediabetes, defined as a fasting blood glucose level of 100–124 mg/dl. They were randomly assigned to either a sardine group or a control group, and both groups received nutritional education aimed at preventing type 2 diabetes. The sardine group also was told to consume 200 grams (7.05 ounces) of sardines each week. Over the course of the year, several people in both groups dropped out of the study, leaving 63 members of the sardine group and 61 members of the control group who completed the study.
Sardine consumption linked to lower type 2 risk
Based on a risk assessment for type 2 diabetes, the researchers found that members of the sardine group were significantly less likely than those in the control group to have a very high risk of developing type 2 diabetes at the end of the 12 months. They showed a number of beneficial differences in blood test results, including higher levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good”) cholesterol, lower triglyceride levels, and lower blood pressure. They also had higher circulating levels of omega-3 fatty acids and taurine in their blood — nutrients in sardines that may be responsible for many of the health benefits linked to consumption of these fish.
The researchers concluded that supplementing a healthy diet with sardines may help reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes in people at high risk for the condition. More research is needed to find out if consuming higher amounts of sardines, or other types of fatty fish, could have a similar or even greater benefit for preventing type 2 diabetes — and whether consuming fatty fish could also help people without prediabetes reduce their risk for elevated blood glucose levels.
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