Could Feeding Infants Formula Help Prevent Type 1 Diabetes?
December 13, 2010
It isn't entirely clear how type 1 diabetes develops, but some research has pointed to environmental factors—like diet or exposure to a virus—before birth or during infancy. Could a different diet then play a role in preventing the development of type 1 diabetes? A new study suggests it might.
Researchers from Finland assembled a group of 230 infants who had at least one immediate family member with type 1 diabetes. Blood tests also revealed that these infants carried the HLA genotype. Both of these factors are associated with an increased likelihood for developing type 1 diabetes.
The infants were divided into two groups: 117 were fed a conventional-type infant formula made from cow's milk, while 113 were fed a hydrolyzed casein hydrolysate formula. (Infant exposure to complex proteins, like those found in conventional infant formula, has been identified as possible risk factors for type 1 diabetes.) The infants' mothers were encouraged to breastfeed their newborns in addition to using the prepared formulas.
Researchers discovered that 30% of the children in the conventional formula group eventually developed at least one autoantibody, indicating they were at increased risk for developing type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune disorder). Only 17% of the children fed the casein hydrolysate formula developed one or more autoantibodies.
Additionally, there was a small increase in the number of children in the conventional formula group who went on to develop type 1 diabetes (8% versus 6% in the casein hydrolysate group), but researchers determined this increase was not statistically significant.
Might this research someday lead to the development of nutritional interventions for infants at risk of developing type 1 diabetes? Experts believe that it could: "Our results indicate that a preventive dietary intervention aimed at decreasing the risk of type 1 diabetes may be feasible," the study authors wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Nutritional intervention during infancy, such as that provided in this study, may be an attractive strategy, since it could be implemented relatively easily as a public health measure."
Source: Knip et al. "Dietary Intervention in Infancy and Later Signs of Beta-Cell Autoimmunity." New England Journal of Medicine 2010; 363:1900-1908. November 11, 2010.