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Cereal May Trigger Type 1 Diabetes

Introducing Gluten Products Too Early or Too Late May Increase Risk

Window of Exposure continued...

"This finding suggests a window of exposure to cereals outside which an increase of [type 1 diabetes] risk exists in susceptible children," the researchers wrote.

Lead researcher Jill Norris, MPH, PhD, tells WebMD that it is not clear why introducing cereals late presents a problem, but it may be that children tend to eat more of a newly introduced food when they are older because they are hungrier. Studies in children with gluten sensitivity suggest that this may play a role in the disorder as the second study suggests.

"It may be that the immune system, even in older babies, requires a gradual introduction of foods, and that introducing too much of a particular food at one time presents a problem," Norris says.

She adds that the best thing parents of at-risk children can do is follow the American Academy of Pediatrics infant feeding guidelines, which call for solid foods to be introduced between 4 and 6 months of age.

"I think many people may assume that waiting can't hurt, but this study suggests that it can, at least for high-risk populations," she says. "And it certainly doesn't appear to help."

Experts Urge Caution

The second newly reported study involved 1,610 German children at high risk for type 1 diabetes who were followed from birth to age 8. Researchers examined whether exposures to breast milk, cow's milk, solid foods, and gluten-containing foods such as cereals were associated with an increase in diabetes risk.

They found that babies fed cereal or other gluten-containing foods before the age of 3 months were five times as likely to develop the antibodies that lead to type 1 diabetes as children exposed to dietary gluten at 3 months or older. Early introduction of cow's milk was not found to increase risk.

"Certainly it does not appear from these studies that cow's milk is a risk factor for this group of children," researcher Ezio Bonifacio, PhD, tells WebMD. "But in our study all of the children had a mother or father with type 1 diabetes. It doesn't rule out the effect of cow's milk in children without a genetic predisposition."

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