Cow’s Milk and Diabetes

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system’s ‘soldiers’, known as T-cells, destroy the body’s own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This type of response is thought to involve a genetic predisposition (diabetes in the family) coupled to an environmental trigger such as cow insulin or casein – both from cow’s milk.

Research shows that some infants may be more vulnerable to type I diabetes later in life if exposed to cow's milk formula while very young.

A Finnish study of children (with at least one close relative with type I diabetes) examined whether early exposure to insulin in cow’s milk formula increased the risk of type I diabetes. Results showed that infants given cow's milk formula at three months old had immune systems which reacted far more strongly to cow’s insulin.

This raises concerns that exposure to cow’s insulin plays a role in the autoimmune process leading to type I diabetes.

Another environmental trigger in cow’s milk is thought to be a protein called casein. Casein is similar in shape to the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Because the body may see casein as a foreign invader and attack it, it may also start to attack the pancreas cells having confused them for casein; again leading to diabetes.

A review of the clinical evidence suggests that the incidence of type I diabetes is related to the early consumption of cow’s milk; children with type I diabetes were more likely to have been breast-fed for less than three months and to have been exposed to cow’s milk protein before four months of age.

The avoidance of cow’s milk during the first few months of life may reduce the risk of type I diabetes. Infants who cannot breastfeed from their mothers would benefit more from taking a plant-based formula such as soya-based formula rather than one based on cow’s milk.

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