A team of researchers in Toronto have published results from an intriguing new study, which suggests that seal oil has the potential to help promote the regeneration of nerves in the corneas of patients with type 1 diabetes.
"Nothing like this has been attempted in humans before," says Dr. Evan Lewis, a neurologist and one of the study's authors. "Results from this trial are a very important step towards a clinical therapy for people with diabetic neuropathy."
Diabetic neuropathy is a form of nerve damage caused by diabetes. Symptoms vary from patient to patient, but can include tingling, numbness, loss of sensation, a feeling of burning in the hands and feet, constant pain and difficulty walking. There are currently no therapies available that stop or reverse these effects.
The study involved 40 patients and focused primarily on corneal nerve fibre length. Located at the front of the eye, the cornea has the highest density of nerves in the body. Damage to these nerves, or loss of corneal nerve fibre length, is considered a biomarker for the progression of type 1 diabetes.
Researchers investigated the effects of the omega-3 seal oil supplement on nerve structure and found that patients on average experienced a 29 per cent increase in corneal nerve fibre length, which is considered to be representative of small nerve fibre regeneration in other parts of the body. The study did not measure vision recovery.
"This study is the first to show that targeted nutritional intervention can stop and reverse nerve damage," says Krembil and TGHRI Clinical Researcher Dr. Vera Bril
, the study's principal investigator.
"These findings suggest that use of this supplement may have the potential to have a regenerative effect," says Dr Lewis. "Our goal was to collect enough data to power a randomized clinical trial and we believe this study lays the groundwork for that to happen."
The next step for the research team will be to validate these results by conducting a randomized controlled trial involving a larger group of study 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 regeneration," said Dr. Jan Hux, Chief Science Officer at Diabetes Canada.
This work was supported by the Diabetes Canada, the Banting and Best Diabetes Centre and the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation.
This is a modified version of a story that first appeared on the UHN.ca website.