Skip to main content

05-11-2017 | Children | News

Fatty acids consumed during breastfeeding could protect against type 1 diabetes


medwireNews: Fatty acids derived from fish and consumed during breastfeeding may protect against the development of type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity, researchers report.

“This study clarifies the complex associations between fatty acid status, milk type and type 1 diabetes development,” say Sari Niinistö (National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland) and study co-authors.

The researchers investigated these associations among 240 infants with islet autoimmunity and 480 matched controls who participated in the Finnish type 1 diabetes prediction and prevention study.

As reported in Diabetologia, they found that higher levels of palmitic and palmitoleic acid (16:1n-9) at 3 months of age, and pentadecanoic acid at 6 months of age, were associated with a reduced risk for islet autoimmunity, with odds ratios (ORs) of 0.69, 0.75, and 0.74, respectively.

On the other hand, a higher arachadonic acid (AA):docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) ratio at 3 months and omega-6:omega-3 ratio at 6 months were associated with an increased risk for islet autoimmunity (ORs=1.39 and 1.32, respectively).

“During early infancy, breast milk and infant formulas are the main dietary sources of fatty acids and therefore the type of milk feeding is likely the most important determinant of fatty acid status,” explain the researchers.

Indeed, serum fatty acid composition differed between breastfed and non-breastfed infants. For example, breastfed infants had higher levels of AA, DHA, myristic, stearic, and palmitoleic acids, but lower levels of oleic and linoleic acids at 3 and 6 months of age. Omega-6:omega-3 and AA:DHA ratios were also lower among breastfed infants.

In a substudy of 43 infants with primary insulin autoimmunity – defined as insulin autoantibodies appearing without any other concomitant autoantibodies – and 86 matched controls, higher levels of DHA, palmitoleic, and arachidonic acid were associated with a lower risk for primary insulin autoimmunity, whereas higher omega-6:omega-3 and AA:DHA ratios were associated with an increased risk.

And there was a significant inverse association between breast milk consumption and the development of primary insulin autoimmunity, with odds ratios of 0.46 and 0.45 for each gram per day consumed at 3 and 6 months of age, respectively. On the other hand, consumption of cow’s milk was positively associated with primary insulin autoimmunity, with corresponding odds ratios of 1.70 and 1.88.

These findings suggest that “breast milk consumption may reduce, and cow’s milk consumption may increase, the risk of primary insulin autoimmunity,” say Niinistö and colleagues. However, they note that their study “included a relatively low number of cases with primary insulin autoimmunity.”

By Claire Barnard

medwireNews is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare. © 2017 Springer Healthcare part of the Springer Nature group