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Childhood Diabetes: Is Diet a Major Culprit?

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Every day, 35 more American children are found to have type 1 diabetes, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

Symptoms may include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Constant hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Rapid breathing
  • Drowsiness or exhaustion
  • Fruity odor on the breath

Insulin injections must be given to these children several times each day to lower high blood sugar. This improves but does not cure the disease and doesn't entirely prevent serious complications such as blindness, heart attack, kidney failure, stroke, nerve damage, and amputations.

Type 1 diabetics must check their blood sugar several times daily by pricking their finger for a blood sample, to avoid excessively high or low blood sugar, both of which are life-threatening. And they must pay close attention to healthy diet and exercise.

The Italian study used World Health Organization data to compare 40 countries, rather than looking at individuals. Although interpreting this type of data can be difficult, the results are consistent with earlier studies showing increased type 1 diabetes risk with increased intake of cow's milk and meat protein, as well as with food additives and nitrates in drinking water. Earlier findings also suggest that vegetarian diets may protect against this and other chronic diseases.

The Italian researchers recommend further study of diet during pregnancy and early infancy to help determine how diet may interact with inherited tendencies in type 1 diabetes, and to look at possible prevention through diet.

In this study, inhabitants of wealthier, better educated, and colder countries less dependent on farming were at greater risk of type 1 diabetes -- but they may tend to eat more meat and dairy products and less vegetables and grains.

Vital Information:

  • Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes affects nearly one child in every 600. Insulin injections and careful attention to diet and lifestyle improve but do not cure the disease or entirely prevent serious complications.
  • An Italian research study showed that meat and dairy products in the diet were associated with increased risk of type 1 diabetes, and that vegetables, especially cereals, were associated with lower risk.
  • The role of diet in diabetes may begin during infancy or even pregnancy, but more study needs to be done to better understand this relationship.
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