It has been known for some time that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce insulin resistance caused by a diet high in saturated fat. In their earlier work, Professor Andre Marette and his team had linked these effects to a bioactive lipid called protectin D1.
In investigating further, they discovered that another member of the same family named protectin DX (PDX) triggers the production and release of interleukin 6 (IL-6) in muscle cells, a response that also occurs during physical exercise.
"Once in the bloodstream, IL-6 controls glucose levels in two ways: it signals to the liver to reduce glucose production and acts directly on the muscles to increase glucose uptake," explains the researcher who is also Scientific Director of Universite Laval's Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods.
The researchers used transgenic mice lacking the IL-6 gene to demonstrate the link between PDX and IL-6. PDX had very little effect on the control of blood glucose in these animals. In similar tests conducted on obese diabetic rats, PDX was shown to dramatically improve responsiveness to insulin, the hormone which regulates blood glucose.
"The mechanism of action described for PDX represents a new therapeutic strategy for improving glucose control," proposes the researcher. "Its efficacy may be comparable with that of certain drugs currently prescribed to control glycemia."
The study has been published in the journal Nature Medicine.