Unsaturated Fatty Acids May Reduce Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Risk

Type 2 diabetes risk may be reduced by total fatty acid intake.

Unsaturated fatty acids may decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), according to a cross-sectional investigation published in Nutrition and Diabetes. 

Researchers conducted a study using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — a research program using stratified multistage probability samples — to select representative samples of the American population. The team included 9082 individuals consisting of participants with normal glucose tolerance (n=6892), impaired glucose tolerance (n=1434), and T2DM (n=765). Study participants underwent 2 in-person 24-hour interviews providing dietary fatty acid intake data. The team used multivariate logistic regression analysis to determine the correlation between fatty acid intake and impaired glucose tolerance and T2DM risk and performed a factor analysis using varimax rotation.

Individuals with T2DM and participants with impaired glucose tolerance were older, had larger body mass index (BMI), less education, more hypertension, and were less likely to exercise compared with individuals in the normal glucose tolerance group (P <.05 for all). Dietary intake among these participants included less total fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats compared with individuals with normal glucose tolerance.

Our study partially corrects the fact that there is a gap between blood and dietary FAs, which makes it difficult to recommend adequate amounts of FAs in the diet.

Total saturated fatty acid levels demonstrated a negative correlation with impaired glucose risk tolerance after adjusting for variables, the report shows (odds ratio [OR], 0.991; 95% CI, 0.985-0.998; P =.024). Hexanoic acid (6:0) and dodecanoic acid (12:0) were the only saturated fatty acids to not show a negative correlation with impaired glucose function.

Both hexadecenoic acid (16:1) and octadecenoic acid (18:1) reduced impaired glucose function among the monounsaturated fatty acids (OR, 0.850; 95% CI, 0.762-0.948; P = .010 and OR, 0.991; 95% CI, 0.985-0.997, P =.012, respectively) and octadecatrienoic acid (18:3) was the only polyunsaturated fatty acid to negatively correlate with reduced impaired glucose function risk (OR, 0.903; 95% CI, 0.835-0.977; P =.021).

The study authors state that unsaturated fatty acids in natural oils may reduce T2DM risk, but acknowledge that providing guidelines for dietary fatty acids continues to remain a challenge.

“Our study partially corrects the fact that there is a gap between blood and dietary [fatty acids], which makes it difficult to recommend adequate amounts of FAs in the diet,” the researchers explain.

Study limitations include a cross-sectional design and an inability to obtain long-term dietary fatty acid exposure levels.

This article originally appeared on Endocrinology Advisor


Zhu X, Chen L, Lin J, et al. “Association between fatty acids and the risk of impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes mellitus in American adults: NHANES 2005−2016.” Nutr Diabetes. Published online May 1, 2023. doi:10.1038/s41387-023-00236-4