The pilot trial, led by researchers at the University of Manchester, UK, tested whether fish oil supplements benefited in children with Congenital hyperinsulinism - a disease that is the clinical opposite of diabetes.
Writing in Frontiers in Endocrinology, the researchers found that giving the children purified fish oils similar to those backed to help some heart attack patients stabilised their blood sugar levels.
“We were aware of the stabilising effect that purified fish oils - in particular EPA [eicosapenaenoic acid] and DHA [docosahexaenoic acid] - have on heart cells, the reason why these are sometimes recommended after a heart attack,” Dr Karen Cosgrove of the University’s Faculty of Life Sciences told Nutraingredients.
A calming effect
Congenital hyperinsulinism (CHI) is a rare disorder affecting roughly one in 50,000 children in the UK, and one in 2,500 children in Finland, Saudi Arabia and Ashkenazi Jewish populations.
A difficult condition to treat, it causes the beta-cells in the pancreas to become over-active and release too much insulin, leading to low sugar episodes that in a baby’s developing brain can lead to long term disabilities and brain damage.
Cosgrove explained that heart cells are electrically active cells, as are the pancreatic beta cells responsible for the release of insulin into the blood. The researchers hypothesised, therefore, that the purified fish oils might have a similar calming influence on the electrical activity of beta cells, leading to less insulin release.
Stable blood sugar levels
Seven children between the ages of one and 11 years, with confirmed persistent CHI and satisfactory glycaemic stability, participated in the trial. The children were given a 3 ml dose of fish oil-derived PUFA (containing 459 mg of EPA and 310 mg of DHA) daily for 21 days. Continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGMS) were used to monitor subcutaneous glucose at frequent intervals to determine glycaemic control.
Although fish oil supplementation did not increase CGMS or blood glucose levels by a clinically significant margin, the team found that blood sugar levels were significantly stabilised – revealing that the children were less likely to experience hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) during the supplementation.
“In congenital hyperinsulinism, hypoglycaemia is a major problem due to the uncontrolled release of insulin from the pancreatic beta cells and new ways of preventing these low blood sugars are very important to protect brain function and development,” said Dr Cosgrove.
Explaining the mechanism responsible for the blood sugar stabilising effect observed in the study, Cosgrove said: “We think that the fish oils help to stabilise and reduce the electrical activity in the beta cells. When beta cells are less electrically active they release less insulin. More specifically, it is thought that the constituents of the fish oil can bind to sodium and calcium channels and increase their latency so they are less likely to open and induce electrical activity.”
Source: Frontiers in Endocrinology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3389/fendo.2014.00031
“Reduced glycemic variability in diazoxide-responsive children with congenital hyperinsulinism using supplemental omega-3-polyunsaturated fatty acids; a pilot trial with MaxEPA”
Authors: Mars Skae, Hima Bindu Avatapalle, et al