Two new studies, both published online last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the relation between DHA, EPA and ALA and the risk of type 2 diabetes.
One study, conducted in 3,088 men and women aged 65 and older, found that higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids decreased diabetes risk. Those who had the highest blood concentration of DHA and EPA (combined) were 36 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes over 10 years. Participants with the highest concentration of ALA in their bloodstream had a 43% lower risk of developing diabetes.
The second study analyzed the omega-3 fat intake of 43,176 Chinese adults, aged 45-74, living in Singapore and found that ALA intake was strongly protective from diabetes. Omega 3 fats from fish, however, neither increased nor decreased risk of the disease.
The three types of omega-3 fatty acids are metabolized differently in the body and, as a result, can have different effects in cells. It's thought that ALA, in particular, helps improve how the body uses insulin, the hormone that clears sugar from the blood stream.
The top sources of DHA and EPA include salmon, trout, sardines, herring, mackerel and fish oil supplements.
There are no official recommended intakes for DHA and EPA, however experts recommend 500 to 1000 milligrams of EPA and DHA (combined) each day to guard against heart disease. Since omega-3 fats store in the body, a daily intake of 500 milligrams DHA + EPA can be achieved by eating six ounces of salmon each week.
The best sources of ALA include flax oil, ground flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil. Women need 1.1 grams per day (1100 milligrams) and men require 1.6 grams (1600 milligrams). One teaspoon of flax oil or 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed both have 2400 milligrams.
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