Giving probiotics to babies in the first few weeks of life may lower their risk of developing type 1 diabetes, a recent study has found.


The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics found that children who were given probiotics within the first 27 days of life had a 60% reduction in the risk of developing islet autoimmunity, compared with children who were first given probiotics after 27 days or not at all.

The results are part of a larger study called The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY), jointly funded by JDRF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study began in 2004 and followed 7,473 children at high genetic risk of developing type 1 diabetes over ten years in order to pinpoint environmental triggers that initiate the autoimmune process.

Lifestyle and environmental factors such as diet and infection were monitored from birth, and blood samples were taken regularly to see when and if islet autoantibodies developed.

The current study analysed TEDDY data for probiotic use and found a 60% lower incidence of islet autoimmunity in children who received probiotics via supplements and/ or infant formula before 27 days of age. Interestingly, probiotics were only protective in children with the highest risk DR3/4 genes, and had no effect in children with other type 1 diabetes risk genes.

It is important to note that the study only shows an association between probiotics and islet autoimmunity, and further research is required to confirm and understand the findings. However, many studies have shown that the population of micro-organisms in the gut – the microbiome – and the immune system are intimately linked. What’s more, some studies show that the microbiome is different in people with type 1 diabetes, and that the first few days of life are a critical period in microbiome development.

Lead investigator Associate Professor Ulla Uusitalo from the University of South Florida cautioned against reading too much into the results. “Only one study has shown this association, so we need more research,” she said. “We don’t know exactly how the interactions between probiotics and the immune system work, but there is evidence that there is something going on.”

Read more about type 1 diabetes and the microbiome.

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