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Timing Is Everything

Published Online: Monday, December 1, 2003   [ Request Print ]

    When infants are first given solid food may play a role in the development of diabetes in children at risk. The results of 2 recent studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicate that starting solid food at the wrong time could overwhelm at-risk infants? immature immune systems and trigger changes that might lead to diabetes. Both studies involved children already at risk for juvenile diabetes because of genes or family members with the disease. Also, the studies compared the timing of the introduction of solid food in infancy with the development of antibodies that sometimes lead to juvenile diabetes.

    The University of Colorado study followed 1183 children for ~4 years. The results showed a fourfold increased risk of developing prediabetes antibodies in infants started on any type of cereal before the recommended period, and a fivefold higher risk for those started afterward. Physicians usually recommend introducing solid food, such as cereal, between the ages of 4 months and 6 months. The researchers concluded that giving infants solid food too soon might induce the production of antibodies that eliminate insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Beginning solid food after 7 months also might overload infants? still-developing immune systems.

    The second study, from the Diabetes Research Institute in Munich, Germany, involved 1610 children followed for an average of ~6 years. The results showed an increased risk in introducing solid food earlier than 4 months, but only with foods containing gluten.

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