Women who increase consumption of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – found especially in oily fish such as salmon and trout – during pregnancy or lactation period, may protect their children from developing Type 1 diabetes, a research said.
More than 20 million people worldwide are affected by Type 1 diabetes – an autoimmune disease in which the immune system turns on the body and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
The findings showed that high levels of omega 3 PUFAs reduce the risk of autoimmune responses that are associated with the disease.
"[Our] findings support the view that breastfeeding, or some components of breast milk, including fatty acids, are protective, particularly with early autoimmunity...[and] that long-chain omega-3 status during the early months, at a time when the immune system is maturing and being programmed, is critical," said Sari Niinisto from the National Institute of Health and Welfare in Finland.
High serum levels of fish-derived fatty acids (docosahexaenoic acid or DHA and docosapentaenoic acid or DPA) were associated with lower risk of early (insulin) autoimmunity.
However, high serum levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and high ratios of arachidonic acid (AA):DHA and omega 6:omega 3 PUFA were linked to higher risk, the researchers said, in the paper published in the journal Diabetologia.
Further, the researchers found that fatty acid levels in infants strongly reflected the type of milk feeding.
Also, the quantity of breast milk consumed further reduced the risk, whereas the amount of cow's milk-based formula was associated with higher risk of developing earlier (insulin) autoimmunity.
For the study, the team monitored 7,782 genetically predisposed newborns, with blood samples drawn at regular intervals between three and 24 months of age, and then annually thereafter up to the age of 15.