Infants, Cow’s Milk & Type 1 Diabetes

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus type 1 (also known as T1DM; formerly insulin dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes) is a form of diabetes mellitus that results from autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. The subsequent lack of insulin leads to increased blood and urine glucose. If left untreated it is usually fatal. Although it can affect any age group it is most commonly discovered before the age of 15.

What causes Type 1 Diabetes?

Twin studies reveal that when one develops T1DM the other twin has less than a 33% chance of developing it. The most common theory is that a viral infection may produce an autoimmune response. The viruses most commonly considered are enteroviruses such as rubella, mumps, rotavirus, cytomegalo- virus and coxsackie. Many of these are first introduced in the child with childhood vaccination programs. However, there is a more recent discovery of a unique avenue of development…

The Devil in the Milk…

dairy cowIn 1992, a team of Canadian and Finnish researchers reported an important discovery in the New England Journal of Medicine. Examining blood samples from 142 children newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they found that each one of the children had antibodies in their bloodstream that were primed to attack cow’s milk proteins. These antibodies had arisen in response to cow proteins in their infant formula but these antibodies were also capable of attacking the child’s pancreatic beta cells. It turned out that a portion of the cow’s milk protein was biochemically an exact match for a portion of human insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The antibodies that arose to meet the challenge of the cow’s milk protein ended up attacking the child’s pancreas also. We call this autoimmunity… the child’s own healthy pancreatic cells were being destroyed by “friendly fire.”1 It has since been found that some cow’s milk proteins ingested by a nursing mother end up in her breast milk and then in the baby’s digestive system starting the process of autoimmunity even though the baby didn’t directly ingest the cow’s milk.

So, What’s a Mother to Do?

Simple, my recommendation is that until your child’s immune system is fully and completely developed; do not give your child any cow’s milk or products containing cow’s milk (that means you might have to read labels). And while you are nursing don’t consume dairy.

1. Karjalainen, J. et al. “A Bovine Albumin Peptide as a Possible Trigger of Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus”, New England Journal of Medicine 327 (1992): 302-307.


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