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28 August 1996

Cow's Milk Not Linked to Type 1 Diabetes

We investigated whether early exposure to cow's milk protein in infancy was associated with beta-cell autoimmunity, which is an early predictor of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. These new findings come from the Diabetes Autoimmunity Study in the Young, or DAISY, which is a collaborative effort of researchers from the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes and Roche Molecular Systems in California.

We studied 253 healthy children between the ages of 9 months and 7 years who we determined to be at increased risk for diabetes. We collected information from their parents about their child's infant diet and then tested the children for beta-cell autoimmunity. 18 cases of beta-cell autoimmunity were detected in these children. We found that the children with beta-cell autoimmunity were not more likely to have been exposed to cow's milk protein prior to three months of age than the children without beta-cell autoimmunity, in our cohort.

Our study was designed to overcome what we perceived as limitations in the collection of infant diet information of the previous research. Specifically, we shortened the amount of time that parents had to remember their child's infant diet, which would likely improve the accuracy of the information. Also, we collected the diet information from the parents before they knew whether their child had beta-cell autoimmunity. Previous studies had collected this from parents of children who already had diabetes, and it has been suggested that parents of sick children respond differently to questions such as these than parents of healthy children.

These improvements in the collection of the infant diet may explain, in part, why our findings are contrary to those of previous studies, which have suggested a 60% increased risk of diabetes if the child had been exposed to cow's milk by 3 months of age.

Diabetes affects 1 in 300 children by the age of 20. The ability to prevent this disease lies in a clear definition of its causes. This research suggests that the influence of the infant diet on future risk of diabetes is more complex than whether or not the child had been exposed to cow's milk by a certain age, suggesting that simply avoiding cow's milk may not be an effective means of preventing diabetes. Therefore, it is important that researchers continue to look for feasible interventions for the prevention of this serious disease.

Dr. Jill M. Norris
Assistant Professor, Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center

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