Breastfeeding has been found to impact gut bacteria that might be significant in protecting children from developing type 1 diabetes, according to new research.
The findings have come from two different studies which have both looked at gut bacteria in babies who were deemed at high genetic risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
Both trials are part of an international study programme – The Environmental Determinants of Diabetes in the Young (TEDDY) – which has so far screened more than 250,000 infants around the world, investigating certain factors which might trigger the development of type 1 diabetes.
The first trial focused on gut bacteria changes shortly after the child had been born and the other trial compared differences in the gut between children who had the condition and those who did not.
Previous studies have suggested gut bacteria might impact the chances of someone developing type 1 diabetes, and the research here focused on the gut bacteria specifically within babies.
Both research studies involved taking stool samples from more than 900 babies on a monthly basis from the age of three months. The research team continued to take the samples until either the child had developed type 1 diabetes or just before they believed the condition was about to develop.
The different types of bacteria were analysed in the stool samples and were linked to different key factors, such as the type of birth the child had experienced, siblings, exposure to furry pets and whether they had been breastfed.
One of the studies appeared to show that certain bacteria communities in the gut were impacted by breast milk, vaginal birth, siblings and pets. However, the research team stated that this did not necessarily confirm a direct link to type 1 diabetes.
The second study discovered that short-chain fatty acids might be significant. These short-chain fatty acids were mainly found within the gut bacteria of children who were not diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and who were breastfed as a baby.
In other studies, larger amounts of these short-chain fatty acids in mice have seemed to protect the animals from the condition. However, the research team said more work needs to be carried out before they can say breastfeeding conclusively reduces the chances of type 1 diabetes development.
Rachel Connor, Director of Research Partnerships at JDRF in the UK, said: “These studies found some interesting changes to patterns of gut bacteria development in early childhood. But the relationship between gut bacteria, genetics and type 1 diabetes risk is still a complicated picture.
“We will need to carry out more research to work out how exactly factors like breastfeeding and these short-chain fatty acids may be able to affect the risk of developing type 1 diabetes, and how strong these effects may be.”

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