Omega-3 Via Breastfeeding Could Cut Type 1 Diabetes Risk

| May 24, 2017

I mentioned in an earlier blog post here some steps that parents can take to reduce their children’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Now there is something else to add to that list – make sure your kids get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, starting off by providing them via breast milk.

Research suggests that breastfeeding mothers who consume omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish could lower their babies’ chances of type 1 diabetes. On the other hand, eating processed meat products while breastfeeding, or feeding cow’s milk formula to infants, could both increase the risk.

In a 2015 study, University of Colorado scientists showed that the more cow’s milk protein children consumed, the greater were their chances of developing islet autoimmunity – and the greater the chances that this condition would progress to type 1 diabetes.1 Islet autoimmunity, also called preclinical type 1 diabetes, means producing antibodies to the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas (which occur in little groups called islets).

At the same time, researchers in Finland were looking at the diet of breastfeeding mothers. They found babies whose mothers ate red meat, and especially processed meat products, were at higher risk of islet autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes.2 Then, in a newly-published study, the Finnish team looked directly at levels of fatty acids in the blood of infants at three and six months of age, and how these related to the incidence of islet autoimmunity.3

The results showed that the balance of fatty acids differed markedly between breastfed and non-breastfed infants. And, while higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a lower risk of islet autoimmunity, higher levels of some omega-6 fatty acids were linked with an increase in risk.

Taken together, these findings give some clear messages:

  • Breastfeedinghelps protectagainst type 1 diabetes
  • Early feeding of cow’s milk increases type 1 diabetes risk
  • Higher omega-3 intake during breastfeeding could be protective
  • Processed meat products eaten while breastfeeding could increase risk

In my next blog post I take another look at ketogenic diets and recent controversy about their use by cancer patients.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Lamb MM, Miller M, Seifert JA et al. The effect of childhood cow’s milk intake and HLA-DR genotype on risk of islet autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes: the Diabetes Autoimmunity Study in the Young. Pediatr Diabetes. 2015; 16(1):31-38. 

2. Niinistö S, Takkinen HM, Uusitalo L et al. Maternal intake of fatty acids and their food sources during lactation and the risk of preclinical and clinical type 1 diabetes in the offspring. Acta Diabetol. 2015; 52(4):763-772. 

3. Niinistö S, Takkinen HM, Erlund I et al. Fatty acid status in infancy is associated with the risk of type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity. Diabetologia. 2017 May 4 (Online ahead of print).

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Category: Diabetes Risks

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