Breastfeeding May Confer Protection Against Type 1 Diabetes

Fatty acid status in infancy is associated with the risk of type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity by Sari Niinistö; Diabetologia; Pub Online: 04 May 2017; DOI: 10.1007/s00125-017-4280-9


Fatty acid status may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity. Fish-derived fatty acids may be protective, particularly during infancy. Furthermore, fatty acids consumed during breastfeeding may provide protection against type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity. Further studies are warranted to clarify the independent role of fatty acids in the development of type 1 diabetes.


Wow. There are not quite drawing the line between the dots, but they are saying that the quantity of breast milk consumption is inversely associated with primary insulin autoimmunity – i.e. that you had less insulin/beta cell antibodies, i.e. a probably lesser likelihood to develop diabetes, whereas cow milk consumption was directly associated, i.e. probably a higher likelihood to develop diabetes.

I can only hope. And do my best not to feel guilty thinking about the one I weaned early.

I am very skeptical of these results.

Studies have also shown that many of the inflammatory markers (IL-6, TNF-Alpha, etc.) tied to autoimmunity are transmitted in breast milk and that the ratio of these inflammatory markers are different between women with autoimmune diseases and those without. Also, while some studies show a reduction in risk associated with BF, some studies also show slightly higher rates of autoimmunity in breastfed children of women who have autoimmune disease as well. Overall the increased risk shown in the best-done studies seems negligible when controlling for other confounders.

If it does have an effect it’s largely on an epidemiological level. And if it had such a marked effect, then it doesn’t make sense that T1D should be rising inexorably in a younger cohort of people even as rates of exclusive breastfeeding increase dramatically as well.

I suspect the fatty acid levels is a correlate for some other more important physiological marker. Omega-3s have been correlated with a lot of health conditions (some studies suggest it can even reduce schizophrenia!) but when more thorough follow-up studies are done the effects seem to wash out.

All I know is the first kid did not get a drop of breast milk and has no autoimmunity, the second had 9 months of it and developed T1D. So clearly it’s not a powerful enough effect that it can actually prevent diabetes.


Dangit, @TiaG! Had to go get all technical on us.

Seriously, though, thanks for your analysis.

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All my children breastfed for 1 to 2 years.

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Strangely, my wife and I didn’t “notice” our sons symptoms until after he was weaned also…shortly after he was weaned.

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Both of mine were breastfed for over a year, and since my son didn’t develop the 'betes until he was 12, I guess that was some good protection. [bad humor alert]

Perhaps we should include in our write ups what type of research this is? Maybe we could even land on three or four tags we agree on.

i.e. is this research preliminary investigation, directional i.e. confirming another studies hypothesis, clinical research, or landmark clinical.

Personally, I would place the above paper into preliminary investigation

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Or just a hypothesis.

I would call that a preliminary investigation. If others think this is a good idea, I will start a topic to try and gain some consensus on tags that will mean the most to the community.