Certain fatty acids may increase diabetes risk in women, study finds

Women who consume high amounts of certain fatty acids are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, irrespective of body mass index (BMI), according to a new study.

Sources of omega 3 fatty acids flaxseeds, avocado, oil capsules and flaxseed oil

This finding was reported at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) meeting which took place in Munich, Germany, 12-16 September.

Authors Guy Fagherazzi and Courtney Dow, INSERM Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health (CESP) and University Paris-Saclay, Villejuif, France, and colleagues say that although diet is one of the most important modifiable risk factors associated with the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the focus has mainly been on carbohydrate consumption even though fats account for a large part of energy intake and also have strong metabolic effects.

Preliminary evidence is suggesting that excessive intake of certain fatty acids may have negative health effects. As the evidence is sparse and controversial, we aimed to examine potential associations between the main dietary fatty acid group intakes and the incidence of type 2 diabetes,”

Guy Fagherazzi and Courtney Dow, INSERM Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health (CESP) and University Paris-Saclay, Villejuif, France.

For the study, 71 334 women, aged 40 to 65 years, from the French prospective E3N cohort study who were not diabetic at baseline were followed from 1993 to 2011.

Fatty acid consumption was estimated using results from self-administered questionnaires across the timespan and a validated food frequency questionnaire completed in 1993.

The questionnaires were used along with drug reimbursement claims to identify subsequent diabetes diagnoses, which were then validated.

The results showed that women who ate the most omega –3 polunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) (top third, >1.6 g per day) were 26% more likely to develop diabetes compared with women who ate the least amount (bottom third, <1.3 g per day).

On dividing the women into two groups based on BMI, the researchers found that total PUFAs consumption was associated with an increased diabetes risk only in women who were not overweight (BMI <25 kg/m2), while a high omega-3 consumption was associated with a 38% increased risk of diabetes in non-overweight women and a 19% increased risk in overweight (BMI ≥25 kg/m2) women, compared with a low consumption.

Further analysis of omega-3 PUFAs consumption showed that women who ate the most docosapentaenoic acid (DPA, ≥0.08 g/day) were 45% more likely to develop diabetes if they were not overweight and 54% more likely to develop it if they were overweight, compared with women who ate the least DPA (<0.05 g/day).

The researchers also analyzed omega-6 fatty acid consumption and found that arachidonic acid (AA) was the only omega-6 fatty acid associated with an increased risk for diabetes. Women who ate the most AA (≥1.14g/day) were 17% more likely to develop diabetes than those who ate the least (<0.90g/day).

In this cohort, the main sources of DPA were meat (31.3%) and fish/seafood (22.6%). The main sources of AA were meat (42.7%), fish/seafood (10.7%) and eggs (9.7%).

Different polyunsaturated fatty acids appear to have different effects regarding the risk of developing type 2 diabetes,”

“A high consumption of docosapentaenoic acid and arachidonic acid may contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes."

Fagherazzi and Dow.

The researchers do not necessarily recommend eliminating these sources from the diet. However, “As we often consume much more meat than nutritionally necessary, we believe that minimizing meat consumption, especially processed meat, could help to reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes,” they conclude.

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally has a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Sciences (B.Sc.). She is a specialist in reviewing and summarising the latest findings across all areas of medicine covered in major, high-impact, world-leading international medical journals, international press conferences and bulletins from governmental agencies and regulatory bodies. At News-Medical, Sally generates daily news features, life science articles and interview coverage.

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