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Are Milk and Genetics to Blame for Diabetes in Kids?

Does early infant exposure to complex dietary proteins, such as those found in milk, mixed with a genetic susceptibility (1st degree relative with T1 diabetes) increase the risk for T1 diabetes in children?  A group of researchers from Finland say yes (Knip et al), and believe preventative measures could help decrease the threat of T1 diabetes.

I always stop whatever I am doing when the New England Journal of Medicine publishes diabetes research.  Somehow this study got buried; perhaps it was due to the media blitz of World Diabetes Day.  CNN, UPI and Reuters among other press engines published “shorts” for the research findings, but I missed them.  Too bad it wasn’t more of a front page news story for the 10 year dedicated research team because I believe this kind of study deserves public health and patient attention.

The results from this randomized, double blind 10 year study tested more than 200 newborn infants – all of whom had a first-degree relative with T1 diabetes.  The study sought to determine whether supplementing breast milk with hydrolyzed milk formula would act as a preventative measure in  decreasing the incidence of diabetes-associated auto-antibodies, you know, the real assassins of a child’s (or adult’s) insulin producing islets.  Would the children receiving the hydrolyzed milk become less at risk?

The study concluded yes.  The study results determined that “17% of infants receiving the intervention formula developed at least one of the autoantibodies studied, as compared with 30% of the infants who received the control (non hydolyzed milk) formula.” Unfortunately, about the same number of children developed “overt” T1 diabetes from each of the groups (intervention and control), but this was in part attributed to “confounding factors such as the quantity of formula ingested” which was at the discretion of the participating mothers.

Thankfully, my daughter is healthy today, but as a type 1 mother I would gladly have supplemented her intake of milk (when she was an infant 10 years ago) with a specialized formula to help lessen the overall threat of T1 for her future.  I wonder about that 30% and how likely a statistical reality it is for my daughter and many other children like her.  I also think about T1 children today and their children.

Perhaps this type of strategy will be a preventative measure taken into consideration for future infants born into families with T1.  For all families with an incidence of Type 1 diabetes, it’s definitely a study worth remembering.

For more information about this study and for further insight, please see the NEJM blog, which is a rather helpful guide to understanding the implications for the study.


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