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Breastfeeding protects against type 1 diabetes but cow’s milk raises risk, research suggests

Babies that were breastfed for longer and those that were breastfed exclusively were less likely to develop T1D.

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Photo by Wes Hicks from Unsplash.com

New research presented at the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), held online this year, shows that breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes (T1D).  Drinking more than two or three glasses of cow’s milk a day in childhood, however, is linked with higher odds of developing T1D.

In T1D, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.  This prevents the body from producing enough of the hormone to properly regulate blood sugar levels.

What triggers the immune system’s attack is unknown but is thought to involve a combination of a genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger such as a virus or foodstuff. In some cases, the condition may develop in people without a genetic predisposition. 

Incidence of T1D, the most common form of diabetes in children, is increasing worldwide.  The number of diagnoses in young people is rising by an estimated 3.4% annually in Europe and 1.9% in the U.S.

“Type 1 diabetes is a serious condition that requires lifelong treatment,” says Ms Anna-Maria Lampousi of Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, who led the research. “Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the heart, eyes, feet and kidneys and can shorten life expectancy.

“Learning more about the causes is key to preventing the type 1 diabetes – and its complications. 

“The identification of foodstuffs and other environmental triggers which can be modified would be particularly valuable.”

Numerous foodstuffs have been linked to islet autoimmunity – the attack on the insulin-producing cells – and T1D but none of the associations have been firmly established and the existence of a link remains controversial.

In the first study of its kind, Ms Lampousi and colleagues at the Karolinska Institutet carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of the existing research to identify which foods have been consistently linked to T1D.

The Medline, Embase and Cochrane Library databases were searched from formation until October 2020, for studies on diet, T1D and islet autoimmunity.

Of the 5,935 studies identified, 152 were eligible for inclusion. The analysis produced estimates for how much 27 dietary components increased or reduced the risk of developing T1D.  This included foods eaten by the mother in pregnancy and foods consumed in infancy and childhood, as well as being breastfed.

Babies that were breastfed for longer and those that were breastfed exclusively were less likely to develop T1D.

Those breastfed for at least 6-12 months were less than half as likely (61% less likely) to develop T1D than those breastfed for less.  Those given only breast milk for the first 2-3 months were 31% less likely to develop the condition than those who weren’t exclusively breastfed.

The researchers say that breastfeeding promotes the maturation of baby’s immune system.  Plus, breast milk enhances the baby’s gut microbiota – the bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and help regulate the immune system.

Higher consumption of cow’s milk and dairy products such as butter, cheese, yoghurt and ice-cream during childhood (under 15 years old) was associated with a higher risk of islet autoimmunity and T1D.

For example, those who drank at least two to three glasses of cow’s milk (one glass = around 200ml) a day were 78% more likely to be develop T1D than those who consumed less than this amount of milk.

It isn’t known what is behind the association but some research has suggested that amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in cow’s milk can trigger the immune system’s attack on the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.

Early introduction of cow’s milk to the diet was also associated with a higher risk of T1D.  Those who started drinking cow’s milk at two or three months old were 31% less likely to develop T1D than those who started consuming it earlier.

Later introduction of gluten to the diet more than halved the odds of developing T1D. Infants who started eating gluten-containing foods, such as cereal, bread, pastries, biscuits and pasta, at 3-6 months old were 54% less likely to develop T1D than those introduced to the foods earlier.

Waiting until a child was four to six months old to introduce fruit to their diet was associated with a 53% reduction in their likelihood of developing T1D.

The study’s authors say it isn’t clear if delaying introduction to these foods directly protects against T1D or if the infants are benefiting from being breastfed for longer.

Age at introduction to formula milk, meat and vegetables was not linked to risk of T1D.  Nor were there any associations between a mother’s intake of gluten and vitamin D in pregnancy and her child’s odds of the condition.

Ms Lampousi concludes: “Diet in infancy and childhood may influence the risk of type 1 diabetes. The strongest findings were for the beneficial effects of breastfeeding and the harmful effects of early introduction to cow’s milk, gluten and fruit.

“However, most of the evidence to-date is of limited quality and further high-quality research is necessary before any specific dietary recommendations can be made.”

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5 Steps for women to reduce their risk of COPD

Women tend to develop COPD earlier in life than men and are more likely to have severe symptoms and be hospitalized with the disease. The good news? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for COPD.

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If you’re a woman who tries to stay healthy, you may exercise several times per week, watch what you eat and get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But are you listening to your lungs?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a leading cause of disability and death in the United States, takes an especially heavy toll on women. You may think problems like shortness of breath, frequent coughs or wheezing are just signs of getting older, but it’s important to pay attention to these symptoms and discuss them with your doctor.

COPD is a serious lung disease that causes breathing problems and worsens over time. It has often been considered a man’s disease. Yet more women than men have been diagnosed with COPD in the past decade, and over the past 20 years more women have died from it, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women tend to develop COPD earlier in life than men and are more likely to have severe symptoms and be hospitalized with the disease. The good news? According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for COPD.

Don’t Smoke

You probably already know cigarette smoking is harmful  but did you know that women may be more vulnerable to the effects of smoking? Women who smoke tend to get COPD at younger ages and with less cigarettes smoked than men. COPD is the leading cause of death among U.S. women smokers.

If you do smoke, it’s never too late to quit.

If you thought vaping was a healthy alternative to smoking, think again. Researchers are still learning about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, but they may contain as many, if not more, harmful chemicals than tobacco cigarettes.

Avoid Pollutants

Among people with COPD who have never smoked, most are women. Women may be more vulnerable to indoor and outdoor air pollution. Women’s smaller lungs and airways mean the same amount of inhaled pollutants may cause more damage.

Working in places like nail salons, hair salons or dry cleaners can expose you to harmful chemicals. If you’re exposed to chemical fumes at your job, talk to your employer about ways to limit exposure. Better ventilation and wearing a mask can help.

Stay Current on Vaccines

People at risk for COPD are more likely to have serious problems resulting from some vaccine-preventable diseases. Ask a health care provider about getting vaccinated against the flu, pneumococcal disease and COVID-19.

Talk to Your Doctor About COPD

Women with COPD tend to be diagnosed later than men when the disease is more severe and treatments are less effective. If you think you could be at risk, or you are having symptoms, bring it up with your health care provider. Treatment can ease symptoms and improve your ability to exercise.

Learn More to Breathe Better

Find more information on COPD from NHLBI’s Learn More Breathe Better program at copd.nhlbi.nih.gov.

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2 Steps to save a life

“By equipping people with Hands-Only CPR training, we are empowering them to spring into action if a loved one needs help, as the majority of cardiac arrests occur at home.”

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More than 350,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur annually outside hospital settings. However, a hands-on emergency intervention like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival.

According to the American Heart Association, 70% of cardiac arrests – electrical malfunctions in the heart that cause an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and disrupt the flow of blood to the brain, lungs and other organs – occur at home, but often family and friends who witness a child, spouse, parent or friend going into cardiac arrest hesitate to perform potentially lifesaving CPR for fear of making the situation worse.

“By equipping people with Hands-Only CPR training, we are empowering them to spring into action if a loved one needs help, as the majority of cardiac arrests occur at home,” said Dr. Anezi Uzendu, M.D., interventional cardiologist and American Heart Association volunteer.

As part of its Hands-Only CPR campaign, nationally supported by the Elevance Health Foundation, the American Heart Association aims to increase awareness about the importance of bystander CPR and offers these two simple steps:

1.      Call 911.
2.      Push hard and fast in the center of the chest of the individual experiencing cardiac arrest.

Using the beat of a familiar song with 100-120 beats per minute, such as “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, can help you stay on pace with the necessary compressions.

“Being able to efficiently perform Hands-Only CPR in the moment can mean the difference between life and death, and by following these two simple steps we can increase someone’s chance of survival from cardiac arrest,” said Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., board certified emergency medicine doctor and chief health officer at Elevance Health. “As a longstanding supporter of the American Heart Association, we remain focused on working together to improve health inequities in our communities by expanding access to training and increasing the number of people who learn and feel confident performing Hands-Only CPR to save lives.”

To find more information, watch a livestream video demonstration of Hands-Only CPR or download a first aid smartphone app, visit heart.org/CPR.

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What you eat could contribute to your menstrual cramps

Roughly 90% of adolescent girls experience menstrual pain. Most use over-the-counter medicine to manage the pain but with limited positive results. Evidence has highlighted that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in processed foods, oil, and sugar reduce inflammation, a key contributor to menstrual pain.

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Despite the fact that menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) is the leading cause of school absences for adolescent girls, few girls seek treatment. An analysis of relevant studies suggests that diet may be a key contributor, specifically diets high in meat, oil, sugar, salt, and coffee, which have been shown to cause inflammation.

Roughly 90% of adolescent girls experience menstrual pain. Most use over-the-counter medicine to manage the pain but with limited positive results. Evidence has highlighted that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in processed foods, oil, and sugar reduce inflammation, a key contributor to menstrual pain.

This analysis was designed to study the effect of diet on menstrual pain and identify which foods contribute to it and which can reduce it. Research was conducted through a literature review that found multiple studies that examined dietary patterns that resulted in menstrual pain. In general terms, these studies found that diets high in omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids reduce it. The muscles in the uterus contract because of prostaglandins, which are active in inflammatory responses. When measuring the Dietary Inflammatory Index, it was found that those on a vegan diet (that excluded animal fat) had the lowest rates of inflammation.

“Researching the effects of diet on menstrual pain started as a search to remedy the pain I personally experienced; I wanted to understand the science behind the association. Learning about different foods that increase and decrease inflammation, which subsequently increase or reduce menstrual pain, revealed that diet is one of the many contributors to health outcomes that is often overlooked. I am hopeful that this research can help those who menstruate reduce the pain they experience and shed light on the importance of holistic treatment options,” says Serah Sannoh, lead author of the poster presentation from Rutgers University.

“Since menstrual pain is a leading cause of school absenteeism for adolescent girls, it’s important to explore options that can minimize the pain. Something like diet modification could be a relatively simple solution that could provide substantial relief for them,” said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director.

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