Eating foods rich in certain dietary substances
may help children and adolescents with type
1 diabetes stave off some of the potentially
adverse consequences associated with the debilitating
disease. These foods might help youth
continue to make insulin for at least 2 years
after they are diagnosed. The NIH-supported
findings, published in the July issue of Diabetes
Care, come from the largest investigation of its
kind in the United States.
Diabetes is an insidious condition in which
individuals are unable to break down carbohydrates
effectively. The prevailing theory is
that the disease is the result of an autoimmune
attack on beta cells—insulin-producing cells of
Poorly controlled or over time, the illness has
far-reaching health consequences. In type 1 diabetes
(formerly known as juvenile diabetes or
insulin-dependent diabetes), which normally
presents before age 20, the pancreas does not
produce enough insulin or any. Thus, food cannot
be metabolized properly to create energy
to nourish the body’s cells. Daily insulin shots
are required to stabilize blood sugar and prevent
acute reactions such as hypoglycemia (low
blood sugar) and its related ill effects.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes
and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, adults with
diabetes have 2 to 4 times the risk for heart
disease compared to adults without diabetes.
Further, stroke risk is also 2 to 4 times higher
among people with diabetes. The chronic condition
is also the number one cause of blindness
in adults as well as a leading cause of kidney disease,
blood vessel disease and limb amputation.
In fact, diabetes is a leading cause of disability
and premature death in the U.S.
Dr. Elizabeth Mayer-Davis
Dr. Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, professor of nutrition
and medicine at Gillings School of Global
Public Health, University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, and her colleagues assessed the
effects of specific food components on type 1
diabetes in more than 1,300 children and young
adults participating in the SEARCH for Diabetes
in Youth protocol. Scientists supported by
NIDDK and the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention took part in the investigation. What
they discovered has implications for both clinicians
and patients alike.
“When we analyzed all of the data, what we
found was that among these type 1 youth who
were still producing at least small quantities of
insulin, those who consumed foods that were rich in
leucine (an essential amino acid that the body cannot
manufacture) and omega-3 fatty acids experienced
a slower loss of capacity to make insulin,” said
Mayer-Davis. Foods in these two groups include fish
such as salmon or sardines, eggs, dairy products,
meats and soy-based foods.
The researcher added that by slowing down the loss
of insulin production, in theory these individuals
might need less supplemental insulin and may
be able to temporarily ward off some of the adverse
effects of diabetes.
The findings help lay preliminary scientific groundwork
for further investigation into the relationship
between nutrition and type 1 diabetes. Meanwhile, Mayer-Davis notes that
there is no harm in patients consuming these fatty acid-rich foods, because the
nutrients are already part of a healthy diet.
“Type 1 diabetes in youth is extremely difficult for youth to manage and for parents
to support. It affects every day, every minute of a patient’s life. It’s very
tough to live with,” Mayer-Davis said. “Whatever we can learn and do to improve
the quality of life for these children and adolescents will be truly beneficial.”