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Baby's first solid food linked to type 1 diabetes

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Feeding your baby solid foods too early and too late linked to type 1 diabetes.

Researchers have found another possible risk for type 1 diabetes that seems to be linked to when your baby eats solid food for the first time. The finding applies to children who are considered high risk for developing juvenile or type 1 diabetes.

The finding, published in JAMA pediatrics notes a trend in the development of the disease worldwide, especially in children under age-5. The goal of 'The Diabetes Autoimmunity Study in the Young (DAISY)' was to find out if diet in infancy plays a role in risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Experts recommend starting infants on solid foods at age 4 to 5 months. The finding that included 1,835 children tested for risk of the disease or who had a relative with type 1 diabetes showed introducing solid foods before the recommended age - especially fruit and fruit juices - raised the chances that a child would develop the autoimmune disorder.

Participants for the study were tested for human leukocyte antigen (HLA) at birth for inclusion in the study that is a marker of immune function.

By the same token, giving solid foods too late - at age 6-months or older - was also tied to the chances of developing type 1 diabetes.

Jill Norris, PhD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health in Aurora, and colleagues also found giving infants solid foods after 6 months of age raises the risk of the disease. Foods especially linked to type 1 diabetes started late during infancy included oats and rice.

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"These results suggest the safest age to introduce solid foods in children at increased genetic risk for type 1 diabetes is between 4 and 5 months of age," the authors wrote.

During the study period 53 children developed diabetes.

The researchers found no association between type 1 diabetes risk and cow's milk, meat or vegetables however.

The study authors suspect giving food too early or too late to children could trigger an 'immature' immune response, leading to the disease. They explain it could be the result of a several different factors, such as "...a mechanism involving an abnormal immune response to solid food antigens in an immature gut immune system in susceptible individuals."

Another possibility is that type 1 diabetes risk is higher in infants given solid food after six-months of age might be the result of "larger amounts" of food given to older children at their first exposure, or even the result of nutritional deficiencies from giving foods too late.

Once breast-feeding stops children are no longer protected from foreign food antigens, the authors say.

Children introduced to wheat and barley and still being breast-fed seemed to have a lower risk of type-1 diabetes. The finding is in line with current recommendations to start feeding infants solid foods at age 4 to 6 months.