Fish oil 'may help to prevent complications for diabetics'

Experts plan to test medication derived from fish oil to prevent complications caused by diabetes.

Researchers want to examine if regular doses could reduce nerve damage and some of the serious complications of the condition including amputation, blindness and heart disease.

Around 2.8 million people have diabetes in the UK and it is estimated as many as 850,000 remain undiagnosed. Numbers affected are likely to grow significantly due to the diabetes epidemic in years to come.

In the study at Southampton University unveiled today, 100 people at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes will be given high doses of drugs derived from fish oil in sardines to find out if they improve the function of nerves and small blood vessels in their feet.

Medication derived from fish oil has already proved successful in treating a type of fat in the blood but the new work could offer a preventative measure to people with diabetes who are at risk of serious complications.

Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK which is funding the study, said the condition was "one of the biggest health challenges facing the UK today".

"We know that neuropathy and blood vessel damage are behind many of the complications of diabetes and ultimately lead to 100 amputations each week in the UK," he said.

"Type 2 diabetes can go undetected for up to 10 years meaning 50 per cent of people already have complications such as neuropathy, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke by the time they're diagnosed.

"The research being funded therefore has the potential to identify a readily available treatment to prevent some of the serious complications of diabetes and protect those at risk."

Around 9bn a year is spent by the NHS on treating diabetes and its related complications – around 10 per cent of the total budget.

People with diabetes are more susceptible to developing serious blindness, kidney disease and amputation as a result of neuropathy where the nerves and small blood vessels become damaged.

The loss of sensation in the feet and legs can make people with diabetes more vulnerable to foot wounds.