What Probiotics Could Do for Type 1 Diabetes Risk

Probiotic exposure in infancy linked to lower islet autoimmunity risk in kids at risk for type 1 diabetes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) If your newborn is at risk for developing type 1 diabetes, a little friendly bacteria may be able to help.

A new study found that probiotic exposure during the first 27 days of life may be linked to a reduced risk of islet autoimmunity among children at increased genetic risk for type 1 diabetes.

Probiotics are a type of "good" bacteria naturally found in foods like yogurt, kefir and fermented cheeses. While people don't necessarily need probiotics to be healthy, these microorganisms can aid in digestion and offer protection from harmful bacteria — just as existing good bacteria in the body already do.

For this study, a team of researchers led by Ulla Uusitalo, PhD, an associate professor of pediatric epidemiology at the University of South Florida at Tampa, looked at the potential link between islet autoimmunity and supplemental probiotic use during a child's first year of life.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin (a hormone needed to allow sugar to enter the body's cells). Islet autoimmunity occurs when antibodies attack cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

Various factors can contribute to type 1 diabetes risk, including genetics and exposure to certain viruses. While there is currently no cure, type 1 diabetes can be managed with proper treatment.

Starting in 2004, Dr. Uusitalo and team followed about 7,500 children ages 4 to 10 from the US, Finland, Germany and Sweden.

To determine persistent islet autoimmunity, these children had blood samples drawn every three months between 3 and 48 months of age, and every six months thereafter. Surveys were also used to detail infant feeding, including probiotic exposure.

These researchers found that probiotic exposure in the first 27 days of a child's life — through dietary supplements, fortified infant formula or a combination of the two — was linked to a reduced risk of islet autoimmunity compared to probiotic exposure after 27 days, or no exposure at all.

Early probiotic exposure also appeared to be linked to a 60 percent lower risk of islet autoimmunity among children at the highest risk of type 1 diabetes.

In an editorial about this study, George M. Weinstock, PhD, a geneticist and microbiologist at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, wrote, "The ability to protect against [type 1 diabetes] in individuals with genetic risk by the introduction of bacteria into the gut is indeed striking. Genetic disease need not carry the burden of inevitability."

But don't run out and buy some probiotic-fortified formula just yet. Dr. Uusitalo and team said these results need to be confirmed in further studies before any recommendation can be made.

The study and editorial were published Nov. 9 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, among others, funded this research.

The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 6, 2015
Last Updated:
November 9, 2015