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Health News Florida

Study: Probiotics In Infancy Could Prevent Type 1 Diabetes

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Courtesy of USF Health
A mother feeds her baby formula mixed with probiotic drops.

A international study published Monday suggests that children at risk for type 1 diabetes are less likely to develop the disease if they consume probiotics when they're infants.

Probiotics are sometimes called "good bacteria." Researchers said probiotics are found naturally in foods such as yogurt, and may help children genetically prone to type 1 diabetes.

Ulla Uusitalo, a nutritionist at the University of South Florida, co-authored the study published in the JAMA Pediatrics.

The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young” study started in 2004 with children from Colorado, Georgia, Florida and Washington, and three European countries, Finland, Germany and Sweden. 

"In this study, we collected a lot of information about environmental factors that could be associated with type 1 diabetes and one of them is diet,” Uusitalo said.

The study said probiotic supplements given during the first month of an infant’s life may be associated with reduced risk of islet autoimmunity, which happens when antibodies attack islet cells in the pancreas, which produces insulin.

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Credit Courtesy of USF Health.
Probiotic drops.

"If the probiotics are given to the child during the first 27 days of life, which is actually quite early, we found that that amongst certain genotypes, there was a significant reduction in the risk,” Uusitalo said.

Uusitalo said some parents already give their children probiotic drops to treat other conditions.

"For children, parents often give probiotics because they may have colic or also they can have diarrhea or gastritis and conditions like that,” Uusitalo said.

The study notes babies also can consume probiotics in some infant formulas.

Uusitalo said nearly half a million infants were screened for the study using umbilical cord blood. Those with specific genotypes markers put them at a higher risk for type 1 diabetes, and they advanced to the next round of testing and questionnaires.

Ultimately, about 7,500 children were tested for the study and  Uusitalo said the testing will continue until the children are 15-years-old.

Probiotic supplements were most commonly used in the first year of a child’s life in Finland and Germany.

Daylina Miller is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.