Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the pancreatic beta cells fail to secrete insulin. This is known as an absolute insulin deficiency, characterized by hyperglycemia and the breakdown of fats and protein in order to meet the energy demands of the body. The catabolism of fats and protein predisposes insulin dependent diabetics to an accumulation of ketone bodies and subsequent ketoacidosis. Insulin dependent diabetics require a continuous supply of insulin to prevent ketoacidosis and maintain a stable blood sugar concentration. Type 1 diabetes typically occurs in people younger than 30 years of age. It is thought that the disease is caused by a genetic predisposition for an abnormal immune response to beta cells in the Islets of Langerhans. Islet cell antibodies have been detected in 60-95 percent of persons with type 1 diabetes. Some of the potential triggers to this autoimmune response include Coxsackie virus, vaccination, other viral loads, and fungal mycotoxins. The long-term complications associated with diabetes are serious, often life-threatening, and diagnosed in the late stages of the disease progression. These complications are due to persistent hyperglycemia from poor glucose control. Many of these chronic complications can be traced to alterations in the structure and function of blood vessels resulting in a lack of adequate blood flow. Macrovascular changes include coronary heart disease and peripheral vascular disease, and microvascular changes include retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the longest and most unsaturated of the omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is one of the most abundant fatty acids in the brain. In the fetus and young infant, DHA is essential for proper growth and development of the brain, nervous system, and for the retina of the eyes. Breast-feeding is extremely important because an infant receives DHA from its mother’s milk. Cow’s milk and infant formulas do not contain DHA. In Europe, law mandates that infant formulas must contain DHA.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a member of the omega-3 family of fatty acids. Although EPA can be consumed directly by eating certain kinds of fish, it is also produced in the body from the conversion of alpha linolenic acid (ALA). EPA is a precursor for agents in the body that provide anti-inflammatory activity, enhance the immune system, thin the blood, and lower blood pressure.
New research has found that EPA and DHA may improve kidney function in people with type 1 diabetes. The study included 1,436 participants from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial between 13 and 39 years of age. Researchers measured the excretion of the protein albumin in urine. Albumin is the most abundant protein in human serum and in people with kidney problems this protein leaks from the kidney into the urine. It is thought that a level of up to 30 mg per 24 hours is representative of sufficient function. The results of the study revealed that people with the highest average intake of omega-3 had albumin excretion levels 22.7 mg per 24 hours lower than people with the lowest average intakes of omega-3. However, it was found that DHA and EPA consumption had no effect on the incidence of kidney damage. Therefore, it appears that omega-3 may improve kidney function, but cannot prevent the development of kidney damage in people with type 1 diabetes.1
1 Lee CC, Sharp SJ, Wexler DJ, et al. Dietary intake of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and diabetic nephropathy – cohort analysis of the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT). Diabetes Care. Mar2010.