• Can Breastfeeding Help to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes? — Chromatography Explores

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Can Breastfeeding Help to Prevent Type 1 Diabetes? — Chromatography Explores

Jun 19 2017

Researchers in Finland have found a link between omega-3 fatty acids consumed by infants through breast milk and a reduced risk of getting type-1 diabetes. The study published in the journal Diabetologia — suggests that fatty acid consumption during infancy is related to type 1 diabetes autoimmunity.

Although diabetes diagnosis is on the increase — much of the increase is due to a modern lifestyle leading to an increase in type-2 diabetes. But does breastfeeding reduce the risk of contracting type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes — the body fights itself 

Much has written in the media regarding the increase in diabetes particularly in people with a poor lifestyle. But this usually refers to type 2 diabetes — formerly known as adult-onset diabetes because it was usually the preserve of middle-aged people, but the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children is also increasing alarmingly. And it is true that over 90% of the people classed as having diabetes in the UK are of type 2, but there is another type of diabetes — which has nothing to do with lifestyle.

Type 1 diabetes used to be known as juvenile onset diabetes — because the symptoms usually developed in childhood and has nothing to do with being overweight. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease — this means that the body basically attacks itself. In the case of type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. This continues until the pancreas cannot produce insulin.

Therefore, people with type 1 diabetes must inject themselves with insulin — they have no means of producing enough insulin themselves. They are classed as insulin dependent. The condition is often detected in childhood — in fact, the organisation Diabetes UK estimates that of the 31,000 children in the UK with diabetes, around 95 per cent of them have type 1 diabetes.

Fish oils in pregnancy to protect against type 1?

The Finnish team tested their hypothesis that fatty acid status in infants is related to type 1 diabetes autoimmunity and that long chain fatty acids can reduce the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. The study used gas chromatography to analyse the serum total fatty acids composition from 240 babies who had islet autoimmunity (a condition that occurs before type 1 diabetes symptoms develop) with 480 control children.

Chromatography is a rapidly developing tool used by researchers. But, method developers must make sure their methods are fit for purpose — a topic discussed in the article, Developing Robust Chromatographic Methodologies.

The researchers found that fatty acid content differed between breastfed and non-breastfed infants, and the difference reflected the differences in the fatty acid content of the milk. They report that: ‘Fish-derived fatty acids may be protective, particularly during infancy. Furthermore, fatty acids consumed during breastfeeding may provide protection against type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity.’ But further studies are required to confirm the results.


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