No Link Between Cow's Milk Formula and T1D, Study Suggests

Cow’s milk formulas don’t cause an increase in type 1 diabetes in babies.

A new study appears to add weight to the case that cow’s milk formulas don’t cause an increase in type 1 diabetes (T1D) risk in infants who have a family history of the disease.

The data from researchers at the Institute for Diabetes Research in Munich, Germany aimed to study whether the introduction of infant formulas affects a baby’s risk of developing T1D.

The research team is tracking 8,676 children with an increased genetic risk of T1D as part of The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY) study. They analyzed questionnaire data and adjusted for sex, family history, human leukocyte antigen (HLG) genotype, and other factors.

Based on results, the researchers saw no difference in T1D rates in 3-month-old babies who were fed formula made from cow’s milk versus those who were given formula in which the proteins in the cow’s milk were broken down, a process known as hydrolyzation.

Hydrolyzation is meant to minimize digestive discomfort and the risk of allergic reactions in infants. Most major baby formula manufacturers sell their products in various formats, from partially hydrolyzed to extensively hydrolyzed.

The findings were published this month in the journal Diabetes Care.

Though no increased rates of T1D were observed in babies who were fed the cow’s milk formulas during the first three months of life, researchers did see an increased risk of islet autoimmunity in babies who were fed highly hydrolyzed formulas during the first seven days of life. However, the scientists cautioned that more research is needed before such a link can be proven.

“These results add to the existing evidence that islet autoimmunity risk is not reduced, and may be increased, by using hydrolyzed compared with nonhydrolyzed cow’s milk—based infant formula as the first formula in infants at increased genetic risk for T1D,” the authors concluded.

The study is the latest addition to a lengthy canon of research surrounding the benefits and risks of infant formulas. Different studies have found varying results, depending on the specific endpoints and patient populations.

For instance, a Finnish study published in the BMJ in 2010 looked specifically at whether the mere introduction of cow’s milk affected the risk of developing T1D among babies with a genetic predisposition. That study compared babies who were fed both cow’s milk and breast milk to babies who were exclusively breastfed during the first few months of life. The research showed that babies who had been exposed to cow’s milk within the first three months had higher rates of T1D. The effect continued through at least the age of eight months.

However, a larger study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 found no such link between cow’s milk formulas and diabetes. The latter study, known as TRIGR (Trial to Reduce IDDM in the Genetically at Risk), is ongoing in a 15-country research area. Researchers plan to monitor the TRIGR participants until all of the study’s children reach age 10 later this year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents that breastfeeding is the best option in virtually all cases. The AAP’s position paper on the matter cites research that linked breastfeeding with reduced risks of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The paper, “First Infant Formula Type and Risk of Islet Autoimmunity in The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY) Study,” was published in the journal Diabetes Care.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published their position paper, “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk."

Related Coverage:

Infants’ Long-Term Health Affected By Delivery Method and Diet

Improving Breastfeeding Rates Among Women with T2DM

Diabetes Researchers Excluding Younger Women?