Taking cod liver oil early in life appears to reduce the chances that children will develop insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes, researchers report. The protection may possibly come from the anti-inflammatory effects of long-chain n-3 fatty acids found in cod liver oil.
In Norway, cod liver oil is an important source of dietary vitamin D and the long-chain n-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), all of which have biological properties of potential relevance for the prevention of type 1 diabetes. Researchers investigated whether dietary intake of cod liver oil by pregnant women or children during their first year of life was associated with a lower risk of type 1 diabetes among children.
The nationwide study in Norway included 545 individuals with childhood-onset type 1 diabetes and 1668 control subjects. Families completed questionnaires on the use of cod liver oil, other vitamin D supplements, and other factors. The use of cod liver oil in the first year of life was found to reduce the risk of diabetes by 26 percent. No such effect was found with the use of other vitamin D supplements or with maternal intake of cod liver oil or other vitamin D supplements during pregnancy. These results suggest that the fatty acids EPA and DHA were responsible for the beneficial effects.
The researchers note that these fatty acids may influence gene expression, have anti-inflammatory effects, and have been shown to be relevant in the prevention and treatment of several chronic diseases. They hope to repeat the findings in children at genetically high-risk for type 1 diabetes, suggesting that cod liver oil or individual fatty acids such as DHA may be candidates for preventive intervention trials.
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