Italian researchers have found that increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids leads to a decrease in insulin resistance, a common precursor to the development of type 2 diabetes. It also improves lipid profiles and adiponectin levels. (Adiponectin is a protein that is involved in metabolizing glucose and fatty acids. Low levels are associated with insulin resistance, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and obesity.)
The researchers at the University of Pavia tracked 167 patients (85 females and 82 males) over six months. One group received a placebo at three daily meals, while the second group received omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. The patients also consumed fat-rich meals to test the effects of omega-3.
At the end of the study, the group consuming omega-3 had improved HDL (“good”) cholesterol and plasma triglyceride markers, compared to no change in the placebo group. However, omega-3 consumption had no effect on total cholesterol or LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Omega-3 first spurred research when scientists wondered why Greenland Inuits had such a low rate of death from heart disease despite consuming a high-fat diet. Early studies established that omega-3 fatty acids have several beneficial effects, including lowering blood and pulse pressure and basal heart rate, as well as increasing inflammatory response and improving plasma lipid profiles.
Most likely the finding that the fatty acids also assist with insulin resistance means that omega-3 will join the list of other foods and supplements that doctors recommend to prediabetes patients looking to stave off the onset of type 2.
The study was published in the European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology.