Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Deciding when to switch an infant‘s diet from liquid to solid food can be a tough choice for any mother. Now, a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado indicates babies who are given solid food before 3 months of age and after 6 months of age could be at an increased risk for developing type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM).
According to the study which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, the best time to introduce solid foods into an infant’s diet is between the ages of 4 and 5 months and in conjunction with breastfeeding.
While the study focused on children who had a genetic predisposition for the disease, the researchers said they were unsure of the mechanism behind the increased risk associated with early or late introduction of solid food.
“The risk predicted by early exposure to solid foods might suggest a mechanism involving an abnormal immune response to solid food antigens in an immature gut immune system in susceptible individuals,” the authors wrote. “As the increased risk is not limited to a specific food, it is possible many solids, including cereals and fruits, contain a common component that triggers an immature response.”
“Additionally, the increased risk predicted by late exposure to solid foods may be related to the cessation of breastfeeding before solid foods are introduced, resulting in a loss of the protective effects of breast milk at the introduction of foreign food antigens.”
In the study, the researchers checked for a predisposition via the screening of umbilical cord blood with respect to the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver. They also recruited first-degree relatives of persons with T1DM.
In total, the study followed over 1,800 children with an increased genetic disposition for T1DM. The research team considered a first exposure to solid food early if it was given before 4 months of age and late if given at 6 months or later. Researchers reported 53 children in their study cohort were diagnosed with T1DM.
After compensating for genetic factors, first-degree relatives with the condition, mother’s education level and delivery type, the Colorado scientists found early exposure was linked to a doubling of risk, while late exposure increased the risk three-fold.
The study also found early exposure to fruit and late exposure to rice or oat products more than doubled T1DM risk. A complicated vaginal delivery was also linked to an approximately doubled risk increase. However, breastfeeding at the time of wheat or barley exposure appeared to cut the risk for type 1 diabetes in half.
“Our data suggest multiple foods/antigens play a role and that there is a complex relationship between the timing and type of infant food exposures and T1DM risk,” the authors wrote in conclusion.
“In summary, there appears to be a safe window in which to introduce solid foods between 4 and 5 months of age; solid foods should be introduced while continuing to breastfeed to minimize T1DM risk in genetically susceptible children,” they added. “These findings should be replicated in a larger cohort for confirmation.”