Can infant formula prevent type 1 diabetes?
November 10th, 2010
05:33 PM ET

Can infant formula prevent type 1 diabetes?

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine may offer clues in reducing the number of people with type 1 diabetes.

Finnish researchers found that infants weaned to a formula that was hydrolyzed and casein-based were less likely to have indications of developing type 1 diabetes than those who received cow's milk. Casein is a milk protein. "Hydrolyzed" means the milk has gone through a process to break down large proteins, said study author Dr. Mikael Knip of the University of Helsinki.

The study participants were 230 infants who had at least one family member with type 1 diabetes and an additional genetic predisposition based on cord blood at birth. The children were randomly assigned to groups in the study. One group of children received Nutramigen, a hydrolyzed formula based on casein. The other group of children took a formula specifically tailored to the study: 80 percent intact milk protein (Enfamil formula) and 20 percent hydrolyzed milk protein. Mothers were encouraged to nonetheless continue breastfeeding their children as normal, and use the assigned formula when breast milk was not available.

Researchers followed the children up to age 10 to see if they had autoantibodies predictive of diabetes, or had progressed to develop type 1 diabetes. They found that children who had taken the Nutramigen as infants had about a 50 percent decreased risk of the autoantibodies that are predictive of diabetes.

These results are just preliminary, however, Knip said. The study did not conclude that using the Nutramigen formula instead of cow's milk truly reduces the likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. The sample size is relatively small. It also only looked at children with a genetic predisposition to the disease. Additionally, it did not strictly compare formula or cow's milk against breastfeeding.

But it is part of a larger-scale trial called TRIGR to answer that question. There are more than 2,100 children participating in this initiative, which began in 2002. More results are expected to be released in 2013 and in 2017, Knip said. The objective is to prevent the process by which type 1 diabetes develops, he said.

Scientists do not know how the hydrolyzed casein-based formula would prevent diabetes, but one thought is that the formula has a good effect on the gut's microflora, Knip said. A separate study showed that a hydrolyzed formula can decrease gut permeability, which has to do with immune function, he said.

Despite the study's limitations, Knip said he would still recommend that when breast milk is not available, mothers of infants at elevated risk for type 1 diabetes should feed their children hydrolyzed formula.

More than 150,000 Americans under age 20 have type 1 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this condition, the pancreas does not produce insulin or makes too little of it. There is no known cure.

It's different from type 2 diabetes, which happens when the body stops using insulin properly. Risk factors include an overweight and sedentary lifestyle.

Evaluate Your Diabetes Management

Mead Johnson Nutrition, the makers of Nutramigen, provided the formula for the study but did not otherwise contribute financially, Knip said. Here's an exploration of company-funded research in general.

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soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Phoebe

    This article leaves a lot of critical information out. Infants how old? Weaned from what to Nutramigen? How much breastfeeding was occurring? How do these results compare to strictly breastfed infants? Strictly formula fed infants? How do we know that the deciding factor was the special formula? I thought we were past these ludicrous attempts to convince families that formula is better than human milk. Shame on you, CNN.

    November 10, 2010 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • princesslovely

      good report i will use your on my reports instead of those idotic immature stupid way out line rediculus furios dumg answers

      November 10, 2010 at 18:58 | Report abuse |
    • Texrat

      Phoebe, re-read the article. You seemed to have missed this part:

      "Despite the study's limitations, Knip said he would still recommend that when breast milk is not available, mothers of infants at elevated risk for type 1 diabetes should feed their children hydrolyzed formula"

      November 11, 2010 at 01:07 | Report abuse |
    • dm

      princesslovely, I'm sorry, was your comment typed in English?

      November 11, 2010 at 01:24 | Report abuse |
    • Phoebe

      Texrat: I did see that. What I object to is that the title and the larger portion of this particular article leave so much out, that the implication is that formula should be fed to babies to prevent diabetes. People who are familiar with research articles will look critically at this, but the vast majority of the public will not. I think the title, especially, is irresponsible and misrepresents the research.

      November 11, 2010 at 02:01 | Report abuse |
  2. Amy

    This is such BS.

    "Mead Johnson Nutrition, the makers of Nutramigen, provided the formula for the study but did not otherwise contribute financially, Knip said."

    hahahahahahahaha... yeah right. How stupid do they think we are!!!!!!!!!!! Ahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!

    This must be magic formula, right? Far more superior than others and breastmilk too?? Whatever.

    November 10, 2010 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • princesslovely

      you are way out of line you just wait one day u might come up with a good idea that works do u want them to laugh no so shutup oh yeah and im eleven

      November 10, 2010 at 18:55 | Report abuse |
    • princesslovely

      u aint got nothin to say i thought so your just mad becuz a 11 year old told u off

      November 10, 2010 at 18:56 | Report abuse |
  3. princesslovely

    i belive that cus word was strong fec i am a 11 year old i came here to get information for a current event and what do i see when i try to look for good responses a cus word wat a nice example fec you are so out of line and way to immature to post your comments

    November 10, 2010 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Galina12

    It is not only about another kind of Milk formula. It is about potential danger of using cow milk when stopping breastfeeding. I heard it before(actually I believe I red about it in Dr.A. Weill book) that risk of diabetes 1is increased if children are given cow milk at the age of 1 instead age 2. I didn't know was it right or not but I was giving my son after one year goat and soy milk.

    November 10, 2010 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Texrat

      We limited our sons to human breast milk and soy-based formula and today they are incredibly healthy, much more so than many of their peers.

      November 11, 2010 at 01:10 | Report abuse |
  5. Valerie

    Um, yeah. Human babies weren't meant to drink milk from cows, they were meant to drink milk from humans. I wonder how much money was paid to CNN for this advertisement?

    November 10, 2010 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Amy

    princesslovely... stop trolling. You are obviously not 11, nor are you remotely intelligent.

    November 10, 2010 at 22:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • princesslovely

      yes i am dont be stupid

      November 28, 2010 at 16:11 | Report abuse |
  7. Joanna

    Oh my gracious, what poorly presented misinformation. If you want to reduce your child's risk of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, don't give him any formula at all. Breastfeed exclusively for six months, begin to introduce solid foods, and continue breastfeeding until at least the second birthday. No formula OR cow's milk needed.

    November 10, 2010 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • S

      I'm so tired of hearing from these "nursing Nazis" who speak as though all those who don't nurse are idiots condemning their child to lifelong illness. Sometimes Mother Nature isn't so natural and doesn't work like she should.

      November 10, 2010 at 23:21 | Report abuse |
    • lucita

      My husband, who was exclusively breastfed by his mother – never any formula – is a Type 1 diabetic.

      November 11, 2010 at 00:51 | Report abuse |
    • J.A.

      I think what's ultimately important is to do what's best for you and your lifestyle. Breastfeeding until two? What sort of insane, unemployed world are you living in? Both my brother and I were exclusively formula fed, and we both turned out to be happy AND healthy adults.

      November 11, 2010 at 09:07 | Report abuse |
    • Cate

      Thank you! Breastmilk is the NORM. When you deviate from the biological norm, you can expect to see complications. I strongly believe that formula should be better than it is, but we've got to stop approaching formula as the expectation. WhenI read the article, I want a comparison of the formulas to each other and then to breastmilk.

      November 11, 2010 at 13:46 | Report abuse |
  8. Michael Superczynski, Columbus, OH

    This article is about prevention – not a cure.

    November 10, 2010 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Will

    There are a lot of seemingly offended responses about this being "promotional", when the study's author makes quite clear that these types of formula should be used WHEN BREAST MILK IS NOT AVAILABLE. It clearly and specifically does NOT state a preference for formula over breast milk.

    November 10, 2010 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jillian

    this is laughable. IT is so misinformed. I have a 3 year old daughter who was Breastfed and still has diabetes. I breastfed her til the age of 2 and we learned of her diabetes when she was 18months old. I also did not give solids until 7 months old. So before you go pointing fingers really figure out what type 1 diabetes is.

    November 10, 2010 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Judy

    The photo...the infant left to feed himself lying flat. Ear infections coming? Note the handles on the bottle...no one has the time or interest to feed this infant, and we wonder why our society is falling apart? Love your child, support breast feeding with the child at the perfect angle to prevent backflow into the ears, and at the exact distance from their mother's gaze...love it.

    November 10, 2010 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Useful study and consistent with other research

    There are several hydrolyzed or partially hydrolyzed formulas, and several that contain probiotics or prebiotics. It is logical that these factors might favorably affect infants compared to standard whole cow protein formulas. The point of research like this is to see if the effect occurs and, if so, how much. Breast feeding is preferred. The question being addressed is what factors might make for better formula.

    Finnish researchers found that infants weaned to a formula that was hydrolyzed and casein-based were less likely to have indications of developing type 1 diabetes than those who received cow's milk...one thought is that the formula has a good effect on the gut's microflora. A separate study showed that a hydrolyzed formula can decrease gut permeability (to absorption of foreign proteins).

    November 10, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Brenda Russell

    I think this article is a BS, I breast fed my son for 14 months, he did not eat any solid food for 10 months, he was diagnosed type 1 diabetes at age 3. He never touched formula.

    November 10, 2010 at 23:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MommyToo

      Did your son touch whole cows milk? That is what researchers are thinking may be increasing the type 1 risk. I agree with "Useful study and consistent with other research", this is useful research. Breastfeeding was not included and therefore should not be compared here. For children that are being weaned from formula, this may be very helpful information. And, possibly even children being weaned from breastfeeding.... the point being maybe we don't go right to whole cow milk. I am currently tandem nursing my 2 children, and doing child-led weaning, extended breastfeeding. Not that it really matters, but felt the need to mention that. It is useful information to consider and hopefully will spark additional studies that will include breastfeeding. I agree that humans are not really meant to drink cows milk though as well.

      November 11, 2010 at 03:09 | Report abuse |
  14. asusan

    The lead photo is disturbing and not relevant to the content of the article. Please replace it. I concur with Judy that this is a photo of an infant who is being incorrectly fed (i.e., alone, lying on his side). I am sure there are stock photos of infants being lovingly fed – by bottle or breast – in a position conducive to correct swallowing and ear canal protection. And while you are at it, a correction/improvement to the title of the blog might be, "Can TYPE of infant formula prevent Type 1 Diabetes?" As it stands now, the title implies that formula (over breastfeeding) might prevent diabetes.

    November 11, 2010 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. DanteX


    This is a "nice start" but there are several problems I see with the comments people are making here AND with this "study" in particular.

    First – I would IMAGINE that Diabetes of ANY kind PROBABLy has a great deal to do with the genes that an individual has INHERITED from generations past.

    Second – While a Baby should be held when necessary, I can IMAGINE that in order for a Baby to ACQUIRE cognitive development and muscle-tone and reflexes and spatial development that they MIGHT need to LEARN how to GRAB and HOLD things WITHOUT a Parent CONSTANTLY running to carry them or "do" things for them or hold them or pick them up EVERY two minutes.

    Third – What MIGHT be true medically for one person MIGHT NOT be true medically for another person. There any number of factors -diet or environment or genetics or immunity- that can and will affect what goes on in ANY given person's body.

    Fourth – The problem I REALLY have with this "study" is that I believe that the sample study is far to small given the prevalence of the condition that it purports to focus on – I believe it would be much more representative if the participant population had been CONSIDERABLY larger than the merely "230 infants" sampled in this study.

    This is a start – But the researchers have a LONG way to go.

    November 11, 2010 at 00:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Texrat

      Try re-reading the article. The small sample size was explained: one part of a much larger study.

      Some of you are obviously skimming.

      November 11, 2010 at 01:15 | Report abuse |
  16. shawng

    another example of scientists trying to fix something and it will mess up something else- pretty soon the law suits will start to happen, nothing beats natural, the more natural it is the better you are

    November 11, 2010 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Stacey

    Learning early–time to drink your meds, son.

    November 11, 2010 at 01:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Clifford

    Clearly "FireElizabethCohen" you missed read the part where it said " The study did not conclude that using the Nutramigen formula instead of cow's milk truly reduces the likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes. The sample size is relatively small. It also only looked at children with a genetic predisposition to the disease." read it closer next time.

    November 11, 2010 at 01:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. NutramigenUser

    My kids were born 27, 26 and 24 years ago and I used Nutramigin faithfully as their formula when I couldn't breastfeed them (5 months for two, 9 months for one). My eldest developed type 1 diabetes at age 22. He had an aunt who had type 1 develop as a child. It may have delayed his onset, for which I am glad. My other two seem ok so far. I would use this formula again, even though it cost dearly to do so. Is it still so expensive???

    November 11, 2010 at 02:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Xibz

    Obviously you didn't read the first title. It doesn't say anything about a cure, but just a prevention

    November 11, 2010 at 03:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. alex

    Full cow milk has long been suspected in playing role in Type 1 diabetes. Here is something from TIME magazine, dated 1992: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,976188,00.html . You can go to your local library and get some of the research papers – this way you won't have to rely on dumbed down information.

    November 11, 2010 at 03:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Kamikaze

    This is good news for anyone that doesn't live in the US. As for Americans they're gonna get type 2 diabetes eventually from all that crap they eat.

    November 11, 2010 at 05:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. esbohn

    As a Type 1 diabetic myself I know that when it comes time to feed my infant (God willing) I will breastfeed as much as possible and hold onto the hope that my child will reap benefits from breastfeeding (http://forecast.diabetes.org/magazine/forecast/breast-feeding-improves-mothers-health) and live a healthly life.

    November 11, 2010 at 10:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. TH

    My mother was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 19. She formula fed both my older brother and I and neither of us have diabetes. My younger brother was totally breastfed and he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12. It all has to do with genes in my opinion!

    November 11, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Alice

    Not sure that breastfeeding is the preventative cure for everything. My sister was breastfed for a year and at age 12 got type 1 diabetes. I was born several years earlier and was never breastfed and have been lucky (in my 40's now) to be totally healthy). So for those who think breastfeeding prevents all health problems in children and formula feeding is the great satan, this is not necessarily true.

    November 12, 2010 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 12, 2010 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. April

    I think the study is crazy. There's already a member of a family with diabetes so what's the percentage of the infant having problems just looking at the gene pool? We're already confused about infant formula. I don't know. http://www.best-infantformula.com

    May 1, 2011 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.