Diabetes linked with drinking cows' milk early

The controversial link between early exposure to cows' milk and diabetes has been strengthened by the results of a new study.

In this latest report, Finnish researchers studied a group of infants already at increased genetic risk of developing type I (insulin dependent) diabetes. The infants were randomised to receive either cows' milk based or hydrolysed casein based formulas. In addition to the formula, both groups were breastfed for six to eight months.

Infants given the cows' milk formula before the age of three months showed a significantly raised T-cell response and higher IgG antibodies to bovine insulin (present in cow's milk) compared with those taking the alternative formula.

The results suggest that exposure to foreign insulin plays a role in the autoimmune process leading to juvenile diabetes. Among the researchers' conclusions was that, in genetically susceptible children, early exposure to even small amounts of bovine insulin may eventually lead to a loss of tolerance to human insulin (Diabetes, 2000; 49: 1657-65).