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Fatty acid status during infancy factors in type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity

12 Jul 2017

Among infants, higher proportions of fish-derived fatty acids and fatty acids from breast milk may protect against the development of type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity, according to a study. Furthermore, fatty acids found in breast milk lower the risk of primary insulin autoimmunity.

Researchers performed a case–control analysis nested within the Finnish Type 1 Diabetes Prediction and Prevention Study birth cohort involving 7,782 children with genetic susceptibility to type 1 diabetes.

Serum total fatty acid composition was assessed using gas chromatography in 240 infants with islet autoimmunity (defined as repeated positivity for islet cell autoantibodies in combination with at least one of three selected autoantibodies) and in 480 control infants at the age of 3 and 6 months. A subset of 43 infants with primary insulin autoimmunity (ie, those with insulin autoantibodies as the first autoantibody with no concomitant other autoantibodies) and 86 seronegative controls were also examined.

Outcomes investigated included islet autoimmunity, primary insulin autoimmunity and primary GAD autoimmunity (defined as GAD autoantibody appearing as the first antibody without other concomitant autoantibodies).

Serum fatty acid composition between breastfed and nonbreastfed infants differed, indicating differences in the fatty acid composition of the milk. An association was observed between fatty acids and islet autoimmunity risk—such that higher serum pentadecanoic, palmitic, palmitoleic and docosahexaenoic acids decreased the risk, whereas higher arachidonic:docosahexaenoic and n-6:n-3 acid ratios increased the risk.

Likewise, fatty acids were found to be related to primary insulin autoimmunity risk, such that higher palmitoleic acid, cis-vaccenic, arachidonic, docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids decreased the risk, whereas higher α-linoleic acid and arachidonic:docosahexaenoic and n-6:n-3 acid ratios increased the risk. These associations were stronger compared to that observed for islet autoimmunity risk.

Finally, the quantity of breast milk consumed per day was inversely associated with primary insulin autoimmunity, while the quantity of cow’s milk consumed per day showed a positive association.

The present data shed light on the complex associations between fatty acid status, milk type and type 1 diabetes development, although additional studies on the subject are warranted, researchers said.

An autoimmune disease, type 1 diabetes is characterized by the destruction of pancreatic beta cells. Fatty acids, which have been shown to modulate the immune system and inflammatory reactions, may therefore play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes-associated autoimmunity. Additionally, early fatty acid status can affect programming and development of an infant’s immune system, as well as the maturation of the gut, with long-term consequences. [Proc Nutr Soc 2013;72:326–336; Ann Nutr Metab 2009;55:123–139; Matern Child Nutr 2011;7(Suppl 2):112–123; Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:586S–593S]

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