Omega-3 vitamins are a popular dietary supplement most often used to improve heart health and regulate cholesterol triglyceride levels. Now researchers have found that they also support mitochondrial health and can help prevent type 2 diabetes by counteracting the effect of free radicals in the body.
Free radicals are the by-product of toxins such as processed foods, cigarette smoke, environmental toxins and recreational and prescription drugs. It is impossible to eliminate all free radicals in the body and some free radicals are actually created in the body to fight off disease. The problem occurs when the body is unable to neutralize the build-up of these toxins. This causes oxidative stress leading to mitochondrial dysfunction and eventually to degenerative diseases. Studies have correlated the incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity with mitochondrial dysfunction. Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in which antioxidant capacity changes.
Antioxidants are substances that can halt the damage of free radicals. They are found in antioxidant-rich foods including fruits and vegetables that are high in the nutrients vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and selenium. In diabetes, levels of free radicals increase and the level of antioxidants decrease. Omega-3s have been found to reduce free radicals and increase antioxidant enzymes in this group.
Improving Antioxidant Capacity
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that reduce oxidative stress by increasing the body’s capacity for antioxidants. Omega-3s are derived from either fish or plant sources, and can be found in supplement form. Foods that contain the highest amount of total Omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, fish and fish oil, walnuts, seeds, and avocadoes. Omega-3s are quickly absorbed into mitochondrial membranes following supplementation.
Since weakening of the antioxidant system can cause diabetes and supplementation with omega-3s can increase antioxidant capacity, consumption of omega-3 supplements are recommended as primary prevention and secondary prevention of diabetes complications.
Hajianfar, H., Paknahad, Z., & Bahonar, A. (2013). The effect of omega-3 supplements on antioxidant capacity in patients with type 2 diabetes. International journal of preventive medicine, 4(Suppl 2), S234.
Herbst, E. A. F., Paglialunga, S., Gerling, C., Whitfield, J., Mukai, K., Chabowski, A., … & Holloway, G. P. (2014). Omega‐3 supplementation alters mitochondrial membrane composition and respiration kinetics in human skeletal muscle. The Journal of physiology, 592(6), 1341-1352.