May 02, 2018 By Elizabeth McCammon

Right now, there are no treatments to stop or reverse the effects of nerve damage caused by long-term high blood sugar levels (a complication of diabetes known as diabetic neuropathy), but a study funded by Diabetes Canada shows a promising new area of research.

In a study of 40 people with type 1 diabetes, researcher Dr. Vera Brill and her team at Krembil Neuroscience Centre in Toronto looked at the effects of an omega-3 supplement (made from seal oil) on the nerves of the cornea (the front part of the eye). The researchers chose to study the length of the corneal nerve fibres because damage to these small nerve fibres is considered a sign of the progression of type 1 diabetes; the study did not measure changes in vision. After taking the seal oil supplement twice a day for a year, participants experienced an average 29 per cent increase in the length of their corneal nerve fibres. This finding suggests that use of an omega-3 supplement may have the potential to regrow nerves that have been damaged by type 1 diabetes.

“This study is the first to show that targeted nutritional intervention can stop and reverse small fibre damage,” says Bril, head of the Division of Neurology in the Department of Medicine, and medical director of the Ellen Prosserman Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases at Toronto’s University Health Network, and the study’s principal investigator. This study was published in Neurology, and the research team hopes to do further studies with more participants. “The initial results of this research are very promising, and Diabetes Canada looks forward to continued study on the impact of omega-3s on nerve regrowth,” says Dr. Jan Hux, president of Diabetes Canada.

Did you know?

Annual screening for diabetic neuropathy is recommended after five years for people with type 1 diabetes, since they usually do not develop this condition before then. For people with type 2 diabetes, annual screening should begin as soon as a diabetes diagnosis is made. To find out more, visit “Nerve Damage (Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy).”

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