Effect of docosahexaenoic acid supplementation on inflammatory cytokine levels in infants at high genetic risk for type 1 diabetes

Pediatr Diabetes. 2015 Jun;16(4):271-9. doi: 10.1111/pedi.12170. Epub 2014 Jul 12.


Objective: Type 1 diabetes (T1D) results from the inflammatory destruction of pancreatic β-cells. In this study, we investigated the effect of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation on stimulated inflammatory cytokine production in white blood cells (WBC) from infants with a high genetic risk for T1D.

Research design and methods: This was a multicenter, two-arm, randomized, double-blind pilot trial of DHA supplementation, beginning either in the last trimester of pregnancy (41 infants) or in the first 5 months after birth (57 infants). Levels of DHA in infant and maternal red blood cell (RBC) membranes and in breast milk were analyzed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Inflammatory cytokines were assayed from whole blood culture supernatants using the Luminex multiplex assay after stimulation with high dose lipopolysaccharide (LPS), 1 µg/mL.

Results: The levels of RBC DHA were increased by 61-100% in treated compared to control infants at ages 6-36 months. There were no statistically significant reductions in production of the inflammatory cytokines, IL-1β, TNFα, or IL-12p40 at any of the six timepoints measured. The inflammatory marker, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), was significantly lower in breast-fed DHA-treated infants compared to all formula-fed infants at the age of 12 months. Three infants (two received DHA) were removed from the study as a result of developing ≥two persistently positive biochemical islet autoantibodies.

Conclusions: This pilot trial showed that supplementation of infant diets with DHA is safe and fulfilled the pre-study goal of increasing infant RBC DHA levels by at least 20%. Inflammatory cytokine production was not consistently reduced.

Keywords: breast milk DHA; cytokines; docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); red blood cell DHA; type 1 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / analysis
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / metabolism
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Leukocytes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Pilot Projects
  • Pregnancy
  • Vitamin D / blood


  • Autoantibodies
  • Cytokines
  • Vitamin D
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • C-Reactive Protein