Giving probiotics to babies in the first few weeks of life may lower their risk of developing type 1 diabetes (T1D), a recent study has found.

The study found that children at risk of developing T1D who were given probiotics as part of their diet within the first 27 days of life had a 60% reduction in the risk of developing islet autoimmunity associated with T1D, compared with children who were first given probiotics after 27 days, or not at all.

Interestingly, probiotics were only protective in children identified with a high risk gene type (DR3/4 genotype), and had no effect in children with other forms of T1D associated genes.

It is important to note that the study only shows an association between probiotics and islet autoimmunity, not causality.

Further research is required to understand more about the findings. Lead investigator Associate Professor Ulla Uusitalo from the University of South Florida cautioned against reading too much into the results.

“Only one study has shown this association, so we need more research,” she said. “We don’t know exactly how the interactions between probiotics and the immune system work, but there is evidence that there is something going on.”

The results of this study are part of a larger JDRF and the National Institutes of Health joint-funded study called The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY). The TEDDY study began in 2004 and followed 7,473 children at high genetic risk of developing T1D over ten years in order to pinpoint the environmental triggers that may initiate the autoimmune process.

Environmental factors such as infections as well as diet were monitored from birth, and blood samples were taken regularly to see if T1D autoantibodies developed.

Numerous recent studies have shown that the population of micro-organisms in the gut – the microbiome – and the immune system are intimately linked. Furthermore, some studies show that the microbiome is different in people with type 1 diabetes and that the early years of life are a critical period in microbiome development.

Understanding the types of genes that increase the risk of people getting T1D combined with the micro-organisms found in the gut will allow us to better understand the possible triggers or causes of T1D. This study, and research like it, is paving the way for potential means of preventing the onset of T1D in those at risk.

For more information on this study, visit:

For more information on the TEDDY study, visit:

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