A new study shows no evidence that cow’s milk is a causal factor in type 1 diabetes.
Researchers have been trying to work out what causes type 1 diabetes to develop for many years. It is difficult to work out what causes a disease to develop and what causes autoimmune diseases, like type 1 diabetes, remains one of the biggest challenges facing medical science.
The idea that cow’s milk may increase the risk of type 1 diabetes has been one of the more promising theories. Previous research has shown evidence of an association between introducing cow’s milk earlier in a child’s life and the development of type 1 diabetes late into childhood. However, the results of the new study suggest that cow’s milk as a cause of type 1 diabetes is very unlikely.
The study is the result of a 15-year study of very young children at a genetically high risk of developing type 1 diabetes. A total of 2,159 newborn infants were enrolled into the study between May 2002-January 2007. Each of the infants had a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with type 1 diabetes and additional signs of susceptibility (human leukocyte antigen–conferred disease susceptibility).
The study was global, with children being enrolled across 15 different countries. The infants were randomly assigned to be weaned on different milk formulas. Approximately half were weaned on an adapted cow’s milk formula and the other half were weaned on extensively hydrolysed casein formula.
The infants were given their assigned formula for at least 60 days within the first 6-8 months of life. The children were then monitored for at least 10 years to observe the how many from each group went on to develop type 1 diabetes.
The results showed that fewer children in the cow’s milk formula group developed type 1 diabetes than those having the extensively hydrolysed casein formula. In terms of statistical difference, there was deemed to be no difference in type 1 diabetes development between the two groups.
The study, funded by the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, is important as it helps towards ruling out a possible cause of the condition.
Chief Executive at JDRF, Karen Addingto, stated: “This is very reassuring for our supporters, and shows there’s no need for parents to avoid giving their children cow’s milk during infancy.
“This study once more shows there’s no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes. At JDRF, we will continue our exciting research to find a cure for this condition.”
The study is published by the JAMA journal.

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