Mum’s veggie-rich diet may protect baby from diabetes

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Mothers-to-be should eat a vegetable-rich diet in order to protect their babies from type 1 diabetes, according to results of a new Swedish study.

Mothers who ate vegetables only three to fives times per week increased the risk of type 1 diabetes in their children by 70 per cent, compared to women who consumed vegetables daily during pregnancy, according to findings published in Pediatric Diabetes​.

“This is the first study to show a link between vegetable intake during pregnancy and the risk of the child subsequently developing type-1 diabetes, but more studies of various kinds will be needed before we can say anything definitive,”​ said lead author Hilde Brekke from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.

The new study was performed in collaboration with Linköping University, which is conducting a population study called ABIS (All Babies in Southeast Sweden).

Type-1 diabetes occurs when people are not able to produce any insulin after the cells in the pancreas have been damaged, thought to be an autoimmune response.

While it is not currently known what initiates the autoimmune process, many experts believe that both genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the disease process.

Study details

Applying the term ‘vegetables’ to all vegetables except for root vegetables, the researchers looked at daily consumption of mothers. Blood samples of 5,724 five year-olds were analysed to measure levels of the antibodies indicative of the autoimmune response - glutamic acid decarboxylase (GADA), tyrosine phosphatase (IA-2A), insulin autoantibodies (IAA).

Of the almost 6,000 children tested, 3.3 per cent (191 children) had either elevated levels of these antibodies or fully developed type 1 diabetes. According to the findings, these risk markers were up to twice as common in children whose mothers rarely ate vegetables during pregnancy. Furthermore, the risk was lowest among children whose mothers stated that they ate vegetables every day.

“We cannot say with certainty on the basis of this study that it's the vegetables themselves that have this protective effect, but other factors related to vegetable intake, such as the mother's standard of education, do not seem to explain the link,”​ said Brekke. “Nor can this protection be explained by other measured dietary factors or other known risk factors.”

Active constituents

“To our knowledge, vegetable intake has not previously been associated with type 1 diabetes or with islet autoimmunity,”​ wrote the researchers.

Commenting on the potential active ingredients, they note that vitamins C and E have both been shown in previous studies to protect against type-1 diabetes.

“Recently, flavonoids, the powerful antioxidants, have been suggested to be potentially therapeutic agents for type 1 diabetes,” ​they added. “The most frequently consumed vegetables in Sweden during 1996-1999 when ABIS pregnancy data were collected were tomatoes, cabbage, onions, lettuce and cucumbers.”

Source: Pediatric Diabetes
Published online ahead of print, Early View Article​, doi:
“Daily vegetable intake during pregnancy negatively associated to islet autoimmunity in the offspring–The ABIS study”
Authors: H.K. Brekke, J. Ludvigsson

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