Breastfeeding babies could help reduce Type-1 diabetes

Breastfed children are less likely to develop type 1 diabetes – but those who drink a lot of cow’s milk are at greater risk, study claims

  • An early diet of fruit or gluten can also heighten odds of disease, experts say
  • Scientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden reviewed 152 previous papers
  • Those breastfed for at least six to 12 months were 61 per cent less likely to suffer 
  • Breastfed children are less likely to develop type 1 diabetes but those who drink a lot of cow’s milk are at greater risk, a study suggests.

    An early diet of fruit or gluten – in the likes of cereal, bread and pasta – can also heighten their odds of disease, researchers warn.

    Scientists reviewed 152 previous papers that examined how 27 dietary factors affected the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

    This includes foods eaten by the mother in pregnancy, foods consumed in infancy and childhood, and the impact of breastfeeding.

    In type 1 diabetes the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, preventing the body from making enough of the hormone to regulate blood sugar levels.

    Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the heart, eyes, feet and kidneys and can shorten life expectancy.

    Scientists reviewed 152 previous papers that examined how 27 dietary factors affected the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. This includes foods eaten by the mother in pregnancy, foods consumed in infancy and childhood, and the impact of breastfeeding

    Scientists reviewed 152 previous papers that examined how 27 dietary factors affected the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. This includes foods eaten by the mother in pregnancy, foods consumed in infancy and childhood, and the impact of breastfeeding

    What triggers the attack is unknown but is thought to involve a combination of a genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger such as a virus or food.

    The number of diagnoses in young people is rising by an estimated 3.4 per cent each year.

    The new analysis, presented at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, suggests babies that are breastfed for longer and those that are breastfed exclusively are less likely to develop the disease.

    Those breastfed for at least six to 12 months were 61 per cent less likely to suffer than those breastfed for a shorter period.

    And those given only breast milk for the first two to three months were 31 per cent less likely to develop the condition than those who were not exclusively breastfed.

    The researchers, from Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, say breastfeeding promotes the maturation of baby’s immune system and enhances their gut bacteria.

    What is the NHS advice for breastfeeding mothers? 

    The NHS guidance for getting your baby to latch onto your breast is as follows:

    • Hold your baby close to you with their nose level with the nipple
    • Wait until your baby opens their mouth really wide with their tongue down. You can encourage them to do this by gently stroking their top lip
    • Bring your baby on to your breast
    • Your baby will tilt their head back and come to your breast chin first

    Remember to support your baby’s neck but not hold the back of their head.

    They should then be able to take a large mouthful of breast. Your nipple should go towards the roof of their mouth.

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    In contrast, higher consumption of cow’s milk and dairy products such as butter, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream before the age of 15 years was associated with a higher risk of type 1 diabetes.

    For example, those who drank at least two to three 200ml glasses of cow’s milk a day were 78 per cent more likely to develop the disease than those who consumed less.

    Early introduction of cow’s milk to the diet was also associated with a higher risk.

    Those who started drinking cow’s milk at two or three months old were 31 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those who started consuming it earlier.

    Later introduction of gluten to the diet more than halved the odds of developing type 1 diabetes.

    Infants who started eating gluten-containing foods, such as cereal, bread, pastries, biscuits and pasta, at 3 to 6 months were 54 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those introduced to the foods earlier.

    Waiting until a child was four to six months old to introduce fruit to their diet was also associated with a 53 per cent reduction in risk.

    The study’s authors say it is not clear if delaying introduction to these foods directly protects against the disease or if the infants are benefiting from being breastfed for longer.

    There was no apparent link between type 1 diabetes and the age at introduction to formula milk or with meat and vegetable consumption.

    Nor were there any associations between a mother’s intake of gluten and vitamin D in pregnancy and her child’s odds of the condition.

    Study leader Anna-Maria Lampousi said: ‘Learning more about the causes is key to preventing type 1 diabetes – and its complications.

    ‘The identification of foodstuffs and other environmental triggers which can be modified would be particularly valuable.

    ‘The strongest findings were for the beneficial effects of breastfeeding and the harmful effects of early introduction to cow’s milk, gluten and fruits.

    ‘However, most of the evidence to-date is of limited quality and further high-quality research is necessary before any specific dietary recommendations can be made.’

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