(HealthDay News) — Nonesterified fatty acids (NEFAs) are associated with type 2 diabetes, and the association is modified by n-3 FA levels, according to a study published online January 8 in Diabetes Care.

Brian T. Steffen, PhD, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and colleagues examined whether serum levels of NEFAs relate to the risk of incident type 2 diabetes, and whether plasma n-3 FAs modify this correlation. The authors measured NEFAs in fasting serum in 5,697 participants of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, and determined phospholipid n-3 FAs eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in plasma.

The researchers identified higher diabetes incidence across successive NEFA quartiles over a mean 11.4-year study period (Ptrend<0.001). There was a significant interaction noted between n-3 FAs and the association between NEFAs and type 2 diabetes (Pinteraction=0.03). A higher risk of type 2 diabetes was seen across quartiles of NEFAs (Ptrend<0.001) among individuals with lower n-3 levels (<75th percentile). For participants with n-3 FAs ≥75th percentile, no significant associations were seen (Ptrend=0.54).

“NEFAs are a marker of type 2 diabetes and may have clinical utility for detecting risk of its development,” the authors write. “The modifying influence of n-3 FAs suggests a protective effect against disease and/or metabolic dysfunction related to NEFAs and requires further study.”

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