Breastfeeding and Later Introduction to Gluten Linked to Lower Type 1 Diabetes Risk

Nearly 1.6 million Americans live with type 1 diabetes. More than 1 in 10 of them are children. Genetics or environmental triggers like viruses may play a role in developing the disease, but the risk factors are not the same as those for type 2. A new study, however, finds that there may be certain things you can do during your child’s infancy to decrease risk.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden conducted a meta-analysis of research on foods possibly linked to the development of type 1 diabetes in childhood. They found that the longer a child is breastfed and the later they’re introduced to gluten, the lower their risk may be. The findings were published in the journal EBioMedicine.


Anna-Maria Lampousi, the study’s first author and doctoral student at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, says, “Our meta-analysis indicates that breastfeeding and later introduction to gluten may have a protective effect against type 1 diabetes. At the same time, it is important to note that both genetic and various environmental factors likely affect risk of type 1 diabetes, and that on an individual level, the risk of being affected is still low regardless of whether you receive infant formula or gluten during the first months of life.”

The research team examined nearly 100 medical journal articles on diet and risk of type 1 diabetes in children. They looked at 26 dietary factors, including breastfeeding, the age at which children first ate different foods, in utero nutrient exposure, and childhood diet.

They found that children who nursed for at least six to 12 months were 61% less likely to develop type 1 diabetes than other babies. Additionally, babies who were first introduced to gluten at three to six months of age had a 64% lower risk of developing the disease than those who were exposed earlier.


The researchers also found some evidence of a lower risk in children who breastfed exclusively for at least two months and weren’t introduced to cow’s milk until they were at least two-months-old, as well as in those who did not have fruit until they were between four- and six-months-old.

The researchers did note that there did not appear to be a link between the mother’s diet during pregnancy and the child’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

The team cautions that more evidence needs to be gathered to determine any definite connections.

Sofia Carlsson, senior author and senior lecturer at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, explains, “Our analysis suggests that there are reasons to look closer at the protective effects of breastfeeding on type 1 diabetes as well as the importance of later introduction to gluten, cow’s milk and fruit during infancy. At the same time, the evidence for most dietary factors was generally low and we need more high-quality research to be able to draw any definitive conclusions.”

Though more data may be needed on type 1 diabetes, breastfeeding has also been linked with a lower risk of asthma, obesity, and gastrointestinal infections.

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