Infants Fed Cows Risk Diabetes

The Toronto Star reported last on a study out of the Hospital For Sick Children here in Toronto that the researchers are calling a “stunning” breakthrough.

The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found a connection between cow’s milk during infancy and type 1 diabetes.

The study looked at 230 babies that were genetically susceptible to type 1 diabetes and gave half of the mothers conventional cow’s milk formula to use when breastfeeding wasn’t possible and gave the other half a hypo-allergenic formula with the proteins broken down into simpler forms. The study was double-blinded.

The study’s results showed that more than half the kids who were fed the alternative formula had avoided the disease by age 10 (most children who develop type 1 diabetes get it by that age). But Dr. Michael Dosch, a senior scientist at Sick Kids, said he thinks the alternative formula could benefit even more susceptible children than that. A lot more.

“I believe that’s a low number . . . our numbers from the animal systems are very consistent, they’re over 80 per cent,” said Dr. Dosch. The connection between milk and diabetes in animals was first seen in studies dating back 30 years ago.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body, for an unknown reason, produces antibodies against its own beta cells in the pancreas. The beta cells in the pancreas are responsible for producing insulin, a vital hormone for blood sugar regulation. Eventually, with continued destruction of the beta cells, the type 1 diabetic is unable to produce sufficient insulin and needs to begin injecting the hormone. There is no known cure for this disease.

The study shows it is likely an allergic reaction to cow’s milk that sets off the autoimmunity reaction in susceptible kids, Dosch suggests. The autoimmune reaction causes the body to attack the beta cells of the pancreas, which is what leads to the disease. Avoiding the child’s exposure to cow’s milk prevents this reaction. Babies who are breastfed, because they are not exposed to cow milk proteins, are also protected from this process.

This study was just a pilot study for a much larger, ongoing trial involving 3000 children. “We had not expected, in fact, to get a significant result from this small study,” he said. None the less, Dosch believes there is enough evidence now to switch susceptible babies to a hypo-allergenic formula immediately. “This is one of those cases (where the evidence is already clear),” he said.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto. You can email him with questions at dougthehealthyfoodie alt gmail dot com.