Omega-3 fatty acids are widely regarded as one of the “good fats.” They’ve recently become popular as an easy-to-include supplement that has wide-ranging effects on depression, eye health, inflammation, heart health, and a number of other potentially detrimental conditions. Even though the evidence is pretty strong for the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in these areas, their ability to help prevent diabetes is slightly more complicated. It turns out that there may be some benefits, but in limited circumstances. Continue reading to find out more.
There isn’t enough evidence yet to prove a connection between adding omega-3s to your diet and being able to prevent diabetes, but there are some hints that omega-3s can help.
“Recent studies have shown that when obese women include omega-3s in their diet for more than 8 weeks, they show decreased insulin resistance.”
Decreasing insulin resistance can have a huge impact on health, potentially delaying or preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes.
The bad news is that this only works in obese women who don’t have diabetes. The same group of studies that proved omega-3s work for obese women also looked at men and didn’t see any improvement in insulin resistance. Other studies have proved that the effects on insulin resistance don’t actually extend to people with type 2 diabetes, either.
Even if you’re part of the population that doesn’t get a boost in insulin resistance reduction, omega-3s can still have a positive effect. Making sure that you get enough omega-3s can improve eye health, heart health, and reduce inflammation in your body. These are all potential areas that can have complications stemming from diabetes. So, even though omega-3s might not help out directly with the markers of diabetes, there is an added benefit toward overall health.
How to Get Omega-3s
You may have to make a few additions to your diet, but generally omega-3s are fairly easy to get. Oily fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are all great sources. For vegetarians, egg yolks, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans are all high in omega-3s. For people with diabetes, be particularly careful about the sources you include and how much you eat, though. Some sources (especially fish oil supplements) can cause increases in bad cholesterol and interact poorly with anticlotting medication.
Abbott, K.A., Burrows, T.L., Thota, R.N., Acharya, S., & Garg, M.L. (2016). Do ω-3 PUFAs affect insulin resistance in a sex-specific manner? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 104(5), 1470-1484. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.138172
Molly Maloof, MD
Molly Maloof, MD