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Cow's milk formulas don't increase risk of type 1 diabetes, gut bacteria does

Staff Writer | January 23, 2017
Although breast milk is still considered the best nutrition for babies, a new study suggests that most cow's milk formulas don't increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
Baby milk
Diabetes   Highly hydrolyzed formulas
However, the German researchers who did the study did find that giving highly hydrolyzed formulas - sometimes recommended for babies with food allergies - in the first week of life may increase the chances of type 1 diabetes in some children.

"There is no benefit for infants at increased genetic risk for type 1 diabetes to be fed hydrolyzed infant formula as a first formula if breast-feeding is not possible," said lead author Sandra Hummel, from the Institute of Diabetes Research in Munich.

The study wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between cow's milk baby formula and the development of autoantibodies that can trigger type 1 diabetes.

And it's important to note that type 1 diabetes is believed to be caused by more than one factor, diabetes experts explained.

"This is one piece of the puzzle, and their conclusions are pretty mild. There's probably not going to be one single thing that's shown to be the cause of type 1 diabetes," said Jessica Dunne. She's the director of discovery research for JDRF - formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Highly hydrolyzed formulas are formulas that contain cow's milk proteins that aren't whole - they're already at least partially broken down, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

According to Hummel, the molecular weight of cow's milk proteins differs by formula. It's lightest for the highly hydrolyzed formulas and heaviest for the standard formulas, she explained.

Partially or highly hydrolyzed formulas also tend to be more expensive than standard infant formulas.

The researchers initially thought to look at cow's milk-based formulas because cow's milk has been previously implicated as a possible risk factor for type 1 diabetes. However, past studies have had mixed results, so it's still not clear if there's a connection, the study authors said.

People with type 1 diabetes show changes in their digestive system that aren't seen in people who don't have the autoimmune disease, a new Italian study finds.

Those changes include different gut bacteria and inflammation in the small intestine. The differences may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes, the researchers said.

"For years, we have looked for the cause of type 1 diabetes in the pancreas. Perhaps, we looked in the wrong place and there is the possibility that the intestines play a key role in the development of the disease," said study senior author Dr. Piemonti Lorenzo. He is deputy director of the San Raffaele Diabetes Research Institute in Milan.

However, Lorenzo said it isn't possible to "draw definitive conclusions" about whether these intestinal changes can cause the autoimmune attack that leads to type 1 diabetes.

In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body. Specifically, the disease causes the destruction of insulin-producing islet cells. That leaves the body unable to produce enough insulin, a hormone necessary for cells to use the sugars from foods as fuel.

Out of every 1,000 adult Americans, between one and five have type 1 diabetes, according to the Endocrine Society.