Effects of essential fatty acids on nerve conduction, hypoxic resistance, skeletal muscle contractile properties, and capillary density were examined in streptozocin-induced diabetic rats. Nondiabetic and diabetic controls and three diabetic groups treated with 10% supplements of corn oil, evening primrose oil (Efamol), or a mixture of 80% evening primrose oil and 20% fish oil (Efamol Marine) for 2 mo were used. Efamol and Efamol Marine increased plasma γ-linolenic acid levels, but arachidonic acid was elevated only with Efamol. Diabetes resulted in 15–29% reductions in sciatic motor and sensory saphenous nerve conduction velocity. Efamol prevented conduction deficits more effectively than Efamol Marine, and corn oil had no effect. In vitro measurement of sciatic nerve hypoxic resistance revealed a 49% increase in the time taken for action potential amplitude to decline by 50% with diabetes. Corn oil had no significant effect. With Efamol, hypoxic resistance was within the nondiabetic range. Efamol Marine produced intermediate results. Functional improvements may relate to enhanced vasa nervorum perfusion, because endoneurial capillary density increased by 22% with Efamol, angiogenesis perhaps resulting from eicosanoid production from arachidonic acid. Soleus muscle contractions were prolonged by diabetes. This was partially corrected by treatment, Efamol being most effective. Extensor digitorum longus muscle had reduced tetanic tension with diabetes, and this was prevented by all treatments. Soleus showed a modest increase in capillarization with Efamol, which may have contributed to reduced susceptibility to fatigue. The data suggest involvement of abnormal fatty acid metabolism in the etiology of diabetic neuropathy and myopathy.

This content is only available via PDF.