An ongoing debate about whether infant formula made with cow’s milk increases a child’s risk for developing Type 1 diabetes has been in the news lately. A study in 2010 suggested that antibodies associated with Type 1 diabetes were more common in babies who consumed formula made from cow’s milk. But a more recent – and much larger – study published the journal of the American Medical Association disproves that association. We asked Le Bonheur dietitian Sarah Provence, who works with our diabetes patients, to weigh in on this study.

Recent research published this month in the Journal of American Medical Association has focused on whether or not infant formula made with cow’s milk increases a child’s chances of developing Type 1 diabetes. Previous research showed that using a hydrolyzed infant formula (not made with cow’s milk) was associated with a decrease in the frequency of disease-associated antibodies by the age 7.5, which means a potential decreased risk of developing Type 1 diabetes by using this type of infant formula instead of standard formulas. However, this previous study was limited to only 230 Finnish children.

This newer research published utilized 2,159 participants from 15 different countries and over an average of 11.5 years, which makes a much stronger case. Keep in mind this study only included children who were genetically at risk of developing diabetes and had an immediate family member (mother, father, or sibling) with Type 1 diabetes. The participants were assigned to either be given a standard cow’s milk formula or a hydrolyzed formula. Of the participants who received a cow’s milk formula, 7.6% developed diabetes. Of those who received the hydrolyzed formula, 8.4% developed diabetes. This showed that there was not a significant difference by using a hydrolyzed formula instead of a cow’s milk formula.

Key takeaways:

  • Infant formula made with cow’s milk likely does not have a substantial effect on the development of Type 1 diabetes in those who are at risk.
  • Unless future research shows otherwise, there is not currently a need to choose a specific infant formula based on risk of Type 1 diabetes alone.

What has been shown in research is the correlation of breastfeeding and decreased risk of Type 1 diabetes. Therefore, breastfeeding may be the best option for those who have genetic risk factors for Type 1 diabetes.