Diabetes: omega-3s improve the situation

Diabetes is an autoimmune disease with a strong inflammatory component. The benefits associated with the consumption of omega-3 fats are related to their anti-inflammatory action. Results show that this effect is caused by the direct interaction of these fats with the immune cells responsible for triggering inflammation.

Omega-3s are essential fats that we are unable to manufacture on our own, and which therefore must come from our diet. Flaxseeds and some nuts (walnuts in particular) are a good source of plant-based (short-chain) omega-3s, while fatty fish are the main sources of plant-based omega-3s. animal (long chain). Regular consumption of these foods is important because omega-3 deficiency is directly responsible for the development of several cardiovascular and neurological diseases, as well as cancer.

This positive impact of omega-3s on health is due to their multiple effects on the body. For example, the presence of long-chain omega-3s in cell membranes allows greater plasticity of these membranes, and thus plays an important role in several processes, in particular the transmission of nerve impulses. In the same way, the presence of omega-3s in the membrane of heart cells promotes the regular beating of the heart muscle, and thus prevents the episodes of arrhythmias often responsible for embolisms and sudden death.

Omega-3, the anti-inflammatory champions

Besides improving cellular functions, one of the most important properties of omega-3s is their ability to reduce inflammation. Several mechanisms come into play: for example, omega-3s of plant origin (linolenic acid) prevent the synthesis of enzymes responsible for the production of inflammatory molecules (COX-2), as well as certain molecules that initiate inflammation (IL-6, TNF). Animal-based omega-3s like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are natural anti-inflammatory molecules that keep the immune system from overdoing it and damaging tissues. These properties ensure that a diet containing large amounts of these molecules prevents the creation of a climate of chronic inflammation in the body and at the same time reduces the development of diseases that depend on this inflammation to progress.

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Omega-3, beneficial in diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is one of the best examples of diseases linked to chronic inflammation. When a person is overweight, tissues overloaded with fat are considered a threat by the immune system, and attract a large number of macrophages, a type of inflammatory cells. These macrophages then secrete a cocktail of highly irritating inflammatory molecules that damage surrounding cells and render them unable to take up sugar in response to the insulin signal. Over time, this insulin resistance becomes such that the pancreas stops functioning, causing the blood sugar levels characteristic of diabetes.

A team of American researchers has shown that long-chain omega-3 fats could counteract the inflammation associated with obesity and the subsequent onset of diabetes. They observed that DHA and EPA bind specifically to a protein called GPR120, a receptor which is located exclusively on the surface of inflammatory macrophages. This binding sets in motion a cascade of complex events that culminates in complete inhibition of the production of inflammatory molecules by macrophages. In animals, the impact of this anti-inflammatory effect is spectacular: the simple addition of a source of omega-3 to the diet of obese mice causes a drastic reduction in inflammation as well as a marked improvement in the insulin response.

These observations once again underline the extent to which what we eat can have concrete repercussions on the functioning of the body and, by extension, on our well-being and our health. In this sense, the consumption of one to two meals per week of foods rich in omega-3, especially fish such as salmon or sardines, represents a concrete way to reduce inflammation and prevent the development of diseases.


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Oh et al. GPR120 is an omega-3 fatty acid recipient mediating potent anti-inflammatory and insulin-sensitizing effects. Cell 142: 687-698.


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