Infant Cereal Linked To Diabetes?

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AP
There is new evidence that age matters when it comes to introducing cereal to the diet of a baby at risk from type 1 diabetes.

Medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains on The Early Show that those with type 1 diabetes have the misfortune of their immune system attacking and destroying the cells in the body that produce insulin.

The medical community does not fully understand what causes it. But, Senay explains, a baby is at risk if there's a family history or genetic susceptibility.

Two new studies in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association show a link between diabetes risk and a baby's age when cereal is introduced into the diet.

The research showed that cereal introduction before four months of age increased the risk four times of developing diabetes autoimmunity, or the antibodies that are the precursor to type 1 diabetes.

Research also showed children who were not given cereal until after six months of age were five times more likely to develop diabetes autoimmunity.

Senay does says not every baby who has a family history of type 1 diabetes will go on to develop it. And not all babies who develop the precursor antibodies will develop full-blown diabetes.

The relationship between the timing of the introduction of cereal and diabetes risk is not fully understood. Senay explains what these findings suggest is that there's a timeline to the development of a child's immune system.

The current theories are that the developing immune system of a baby can't handle cereal too early or large portions later on. Another theory is that infants not fed cereal during the critical developmental stage between four and six months miss out on key nutrients involved in the development of the immune system.

Experts are quick to point out that parents should not avoid giving their at-risk babies cereal altogether.

Senay does say parents should be sure to follow the current guidelines and try to breastfeed for at least six months, and introduce cereal between four and six months of age.

Research shows that diabetes risk was reduced in babies that were breastfed, irrespective of the age at which cereal was introduced. The medical community believes breast milk gives babies a lot more benefits as well, although it's not clear exactly why breastfeeding might reduce the diabetes risk.