Giving tiny babies tiny bugs may prevent them from developing diabetes later in life, according to a new study.
Researchers found that feeding infants who were genetically predisposed to type 1 diabetes probiotics within their first 27 days may reduce their chances of developing the disease by up to 60 percent.
The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics and noted on medline.com. Because of the way the study was designed, however, the researchers could not “make a conclusion about causality,” lead researcher Ulla Uusitalo, associate professor of pediatric epidemiology at the University of South Florida in Tampa, told healthday.com. She stressed that the association was so strong that the findings warrant further study.
The study’s goal was to explore the theory that an imbalance in the gut may fuel an autoimmune attack that triggers type 1 diabetes. Researchers analyzed an ongoing prospective study from six medical centers, three in the U.S. and three in Europe. Their sample includes nearly 7,500 kids between 4 and 10 years old. Researchers took blood samples from the children every three months from the time they were 3 months old until they were 4 years old to test for diabetes. After four years, the children were tested every six months.
Parents completed questionnaires and food diaries that detailed infant feeding and probiotic supplement use from birth to three months. In addition, mothers provided information on their diets during pregnancy.
The children who benefited most from probiotics in terms of developing diabetes were the ones most at risk for developing the disease due to their particular genotype. Children without this genotype didn’t benefit and, interestingly, no one benefited from taking the probiotics after the first 27 days.
"This may be a safe and affordable treatment for babies at risk for type 1 diabetes,” George Weinstock, from the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Conn. told Healthday.com. He wrote an editorial that accompanied the study results in JAMA Pediatrics.
“It requires confirmation and further study, but is encouraging at this point," said Weinstock. He suggested that given early enough, the probiotics might help set up a healthy microbiome. "One imagines that there is a window early in life when external microbes are entering the body and colonizing, and during this period, it may be possible to intervene or direct the assembly of the microbiome with probiotics.”
Previous research has supported creating a healthy microbiome very early in a child’s life. One study found that giving probiotics to premature babies helped reduce their risk of developing the flu during their first year.