The study focused on babies born to families in which one person already had the disease.
Earlier research suggested that feeding such at-risk babies a standard formula of normal cow milk might increase their eventual risk for developing diabetes. This led to the theory that the culprit might be the complex protein structure found in standard cow's milk.
The new study tested whether delaying babies' exposure to these complex proteins might decrease the risk for developing type 1 diabetes.
Nearly 2,200 infants from 15 countries were included in the study. All of the babies faced a genetically high risk for type 1 diabetes. The study was led by Mikael Knip from the University of Helsinki, in Finland.
After the infants' initial breast-feeding period was complete, some of the babies were fed a standard formula, composed of normal cow's milk. Others were given a special concoction, called "extensively hydrolyzed casein formula."
The special formula also contained cow's milk, but the proteins normally found in such milk had been split into small pieces, called peptides.
Infants in both groups were given their formula for at least two months, until they were 6 months to 8 months old. All other possible sources of normal cow's milk were avoided during that period, the study authors noted in a university news release.
The researchers then tracked the children's health for nearly 12 years.
Kids who'd been given the specialized split-protein formula were found to be no less likely to develop type 1 diabetes than were those who'd consumed the normal formula, the investigators said.
The findings were published Jan. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more on type 1 diabetes.
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