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ALA, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin E Shown Effective for Patients with Diabetes

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By Erica Verrillo • • October 29, 2013

Research Summary: "A comparative study of effects of omega-3 fatty acids, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin E in type 2 diabetes mellitus" by A Udupa, P Nahar, S Shah, M Kshirsagar, B Ghongane

The prevalence of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes is rising steadily, with a predicted worldwide estimate of 360 million by the year 2030. In the United States alone,18.8 million people have diabetes. Even more troubling, from 2005–2008, 35 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 years or older had prediabetes (50 percent of adults aged 65 years or older), which means 79 million American adults run a substantial risk of developing diabetes. (Source: NIH)

Diabetes is a serious condition. It is the leading cause of kidney failure and new cases of blindness among adults in the United States. It is also a major cause of heart disease and stroke, and is the seventh leading cause of death in America.

Standard treatments for diabetes include insulin shots and oral antidiabetic drugs which increase sensitivity to insulin, and/or help glucose metabolism, (e.g. metformin, nateglinide, Actos). While these may be useful to maintain stable blood sugar levels, antidiabetic drugs may lead to serious side effects, including liver failure, hypoglycemic events (sudden drops in blood sugar), and cardiac problems.

Keeping the risks of conventional treatments in mind, a group of researchers in India investigated adjunctive therapies for the treatment of diabetes. With 40.9 million diabetics, India has the largest diabetic population in the world, which means that a significant segment of the population runs not only the health risks incurred by the illness, but the drawbacks associated with pharmaceutical treatments. 

Although insulin resistance is the basic mechanism behind diabetes mellitus, there is a direct connection between oxidative stress and insulin resistance. The theory behind this study was to “investigate whether by lowering oxidative stress, the primary mechanism behind the illness, blood sugar levels could be normalized.”

To complete the study, a group of 104 diabetic patients was randomized, and then evenly divided into four groups. Group I was given alpha lipoic acid (ALA), Group II was given omega-3 fatty acids, Group III was given Vitamin E, and Group IV received a placebo. After 90 days, blood tests were performed, and compared with previous blood work.

The researchers found that all of the antioxidants used in the study resulted in lowered blood glucose and HbA 1c (a measure of long-term blood glucose control). There were no adverse side effects. The authors concluded that vitamin E was "the most cost effective even though the maximum improvement in blood glucose and HbA 1c was with omega 3 fatty acid. But most importantly, since the antioxidants differed in their effects on parameters of insulin sensitivity, combining these drugs might prove as an attractive option in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.”

Reference:Udupa A, Nahar P, Shah S, Kshirsagar M, Ghongane B. A comparative study of effects of omega-3 fatty acids, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin E in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Ann Med Health Sci Res 2013;3:442-6.

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