(HealthDay News) — Nonesterified fatty acids (NEFAs) are associated with type 2 diabetes, and the association is modified by n-3 fatty acid levels, according to a study published 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 for incident type 2 diabetes, and whether plasma n-3 fatty acids 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 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in plasma.

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The researchers identified higher diabetes incidence across successive NEFA quartiles over a mean 11.4-year study period (Ptrend<.001). 

There was a significant interaction noted between n-3 fatty acids and the association between NEFAs and type 2 diabetes (Pinteraction=.03). A higher risk for type 2 diabetes was seen across quartiles of NEFAs (Ptrend<.001) among individuals with lower n-3 levels (<75th percentile). 

For participants with n-3 fatty acids ≥75th percentile, no significant associations were seen (Ptrend=.54).

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


  1. Steffen BT et al. Diabetes Care. 2015;doi:10.2337/dc14-1919.