Can Dietary Changes Help T1 Children Produce Insulin?

A new study suggests that a shift in diet may help children with Type 1 diabetes extend the “honeymoon period” of insulin production.

According to a recent report in Health, researchers found that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and leucine (an amino acid) may help boost insulin production for some children with Type 1 diabetes by up to 2 years. The findings are preliminary, however, and parents shouldn’t rush to change a child’s diet or forgo prescribed insulin therapy, the researchers say.

The team of researchers, led by Dr. Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, a professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examined the data of more than 1,300 young patients recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. They then gathered blood samples and mapped the diets of study participants to look for trends. What they found was that those whose diets were high in omega-3 and leucine-rich foods had significantly higher levels of C-peptides, a byproduct of natural insulin production. From that indicator, the researchers surmised that a diet high in these nutrients helped the body continue to produce insulin in the early stages of Type 1 diabetes.

Foods that contain high amounts of leucine include dairy and soy products, meat, eggs, and nuts. Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods include sardines, salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds.

This is another chapter in a long debate over the role diet might play in Type 1 diabetes management, and it is not without controversy. In the same article, Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said he was skeptical that the study showed any new connection between the two nutrients and Type 1 diabetes. He noted that researchers had been trying to make a connection between diet and Type 1 diabetes for over 30 years, with mixed results. For her part, Dr. Mayer-Davis agrees that the findings are preliminary and that much more study is needed before any new dietary recommendations could be issued for parents of children with Type 1 diabetes.

The study’s findings were originally published in the July issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.

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