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Dietary Tweaks That Improve Control for Type 1 Children

Eating foods rich in amino and fatty acids may help preserve beta cells for up to two years…. 

According to the new research, foods containing the amino acid leucine and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids could lower the amount of insulin needed in type 1 children and adolescents.

Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, lead author of the study, added, "After the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, a branch-chain amino acid and long-chain fatty acid were related to C-peptide levels, which are important because they’ve been shown to improve control of glucose, and may help prevent complications."

This is "very early work," however, and parents of children with type 1 diabetes need to continue to follow their child’s doctor’s orders with regard to insulin and any other medications, said Mayer-Davis, professor of nutrition and medicine and interim chairwoman of the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Examples of foods that contain leucine are dairy products, meats, eggs, soy products, nuts, and whole wheat. Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in fatty fish, such as salmon.

To evaluate the idea of nutritional factors contributing to beta cell preservation, Mayer-Davis and her colleagues reviewed data on over 1,300 young people as old as 20 years with type 1 diabetes. The average duration of diabetes for the participants was approximately 10 months.

Information on the participants’ nutrition, including consumption of leucine-containing foods, was obtained directly from the participant and mothers. Blood samples were analyzed for various nutrients including vitamin D and fatty acids. The blood samples were also used to measure C-peptide levels, a byproduct of endogenous insulin production.

After two years, the research team observed that leucine and omega-3 fatty acids had a meaningful association with higher levels of C-peptide.

Vitamin D, also believed to be protective against type 1 diabetes, was associated with lower levels of C-peptide according to this study. Mayer-Davis commented that this was probably by chance because it is not consistent with previous research.

Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids appeared to have a linear relationship with the preservation of beta cell function, meaning the more omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, the greater the likelihood of higher levels of C-peptide, she said.

"It’s possible that there are approaches that may improve the ability to produce insulin after diagnosis," Mayer-Davis said. "Within the context of a healthy diet, dairy products, high-protein foods and salmon may help. But parents shouldn’t expect that these foods will be a miracle. Their children will still need insulin."

Diabetes Care, July 2013