Omega-3 fish oil has been touted as a “super hero” in the prevention of cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, blood clots and clogging of arteries. Now a small study from France suggests that omega-3’s may help women with type 2 diabetes reduce their body fat as well as fend off heart-threatening conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered “essential fats” because our bodies cannot manufacture them. Instead they must be provided in our diet by cold-water fish like mackerel, tuna, salmon and sardines or in vegetarian foods such as soybeans, walnuts, flax seed oil and tofu.
Women with type 2 diabetes have trouble managing blood sugar levels because their bodies respond poorly to insulin, the hormone that controls the transport and use of the blood sugar glucose. Studies have shown that excess fat around the midsection (the “apple” versus “pear” shape) contributes to insulin problems, general inflammation and an increased risk for both diabetes and heart disease.
Researchers at the INSERM, the French counterpart to the US National Institutes of Health, tested 27 women with Type 2 diabetes to see if giving them diets high in omega-3 fish oil might reduce abdominal fat, insulin insensitivity, and cholesterol or triglycerides in the blood. Diabetic women in a control group received a placebo oil in their diet instead of the omega-3 fish oil.
After three months, the women who had consumed the fish oil (1.8 g per day) showed a greater reduction in their belly fat, inflammation factors, blood cholesterol and triglycerides than the women in the control group. The researchers found no change in insulin control of blood sugar in either group, however.
The study involved only a small number of women and large daily doses of omega-3 fish oil, but the results on body fat and blood cholesterol are encouraging. Larger clinical studies are needed to confirm similar benefits in diabetic women and men and to clarify any protective effects of omega-3’s on insulin insensitivity.
Important notes: Fish oil supplements can temporarily worsen blood sugar control in some diabetics and tend to thin the blood.