The Benefits of Fish Oil in Avoiding Complications of Diabetes

December 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health

There are 2.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK and it’s estimated that there are a further 850,000 undiagnosed people with the condition. Unfortunately, there are many serious complications associated with diabetes including nerve damage, amputation, blindness or heart disease and new research currently being funded by leading health charity Diabetes UK aims to determine if regular doses of medication derived from fish oil could be used to improve this situation.

Keith McCormick at the University of Southampton is to conduct an 18-month clinical trial on 100 people at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes to determine whether taking high-doses of purified n-3 long chain fatty acids can improve the function of nerves and small blood vessels in the feet of those with a higher chance of developing the condition.

This will be done by giving them a medication derived from fish oil found in Norwegian sardines (named OMACOR) but whether that is each individual sardine or their family name isn’t quite clear – at least to me. The object of the study is to use the data obtained to improve our knowledge of the link between nerve function and blood vessel damage.

People with diabetes are susceptible to develop serious health complications as previously described and this is as a result of neuropathy where the nerves and small blood vessels become damaged. Sensory neuropathy is the most common form and mainly affects the nerves in the feet and legs. The loss of sensation in these limbs can make people with diabetes vulnerable to foot wounds and these complications can develop even before diabetes is diagnosed.

Apparently those OMACOR sardines have already proved to be extremely successful in the treatment of high triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood, so I sincerely hope there are plenty of such fish in the sea and they don’t fall fall foul of fishing quotas.

This is a valuable area to explore as diabetes is one of the biggest health challenges facing the UK today. It takes approximately 10 per cent of NHS spending, £9 million a year, and neuropathy and blood vessel damage are behind many of the complications of diabetes, which ultimately lead to 100 amputations each week in the UK.

Because Type 2 diabetes can go undetected for up to ten years, 50 per cent of people already have complications, such as neuropathy, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke, by the time they’re diagnosed. The research being funded at the University of Southampton therefore has the potential to identify a readily available treatment to prevent some of the serious complications of diabetes and protect those at risk.

If you would like more information on diabetes, then The Diabetes UK Careline offers information and support on any aspect of managing diabetes. The line is a low cost number (0845 120 2960) and opens Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm. Recorded information on a number of diabetes-related topics is also available on this number 24 hours a day.

Statins update

A new trial has shown that taking an omega-3 fish oil capsule outperforms a statin drug in reducing mortality and hospital admissions for chronic heart failure.

The results of the recent Italian study were given at the European Society of Cardiology meeting and published online by The Lancet on 31 August 2008. The patients on omega-3 supplements showed a lowered risk of mortality compared to those heart failure patients who received 10 mg/day of a potent statin drug and others given a placebo. The patients given the statin showed no benefit and in fact had the same outcome as taking the placebo.

What this study suggests is that a daily intake of omega-3 fatty acid supplement for close to four years may provide a slight reduction in mortality or hospitalizations for patients with chronic heart failure and that treatment with statins does not appear to be beneficial in patients with chronic heart failure. The American College of Cardiology has predicted that the results would soon be rapidly incorporated into their guidelines on heart failure. This is the second trial to demonstrate benefit for omega-3 in cardiovascular disease: the first trial found that omega-3 reduced the risk of major cardiovascular events following a heart attack whereas the second appears to lower the risk of mortality from heart disease.

If you are concerned about your risk for heart disease and want to take preventive measures, the suggested supplemental daily dose of omega-3 is equivalent to a gram day, taken for at least four years continuously – or seriously increase your intake of sardines and other oily fish!