Cereal May Trigger Type 1 Diabetes
Introducing Gluten Products Too Early or Too Late May Increase Risk
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"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."
In an editorial accompanying the studies, diabetes researcher's Mark Atkinson, PhD, and Edwin Gale, MD, urged clinicians and parents to use caution when interpreting the findings.
"It is clear that (these studies) do not present sufficient evidence to suggest that 'infant cereal causes diabetes,' and hopefully will not be misinterpreted as such by parents and the public," they wrote.
Atkinson tells WebMD that even after two decades of research, the environmental trigger or triggers for type 1 diabetes remain unidentified.
"I think these studies do put cereal at or near the top of the list of potential triggers, but we still have to look for other agents," he says. "I feel for the families of these children because every few years there is a new idea about what causes type 1 diabetes, and, so far, none of them has been proven [to be a cause]."