Dr Howard, the senior physician at the Diabetes Centre at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, in Sydney’s west, is an old school doctor: calm, assured and efficient.
For 30 years he’s been trying to unravel the mysteries of the fastest growing childhood disease in Australia, particularly the form known as ” type 1” and make sense of the sudden deaths from it.
There are 130,000 people in Australia with type 1 and 80 per cent of them have no family history.
Incidence of all forms of diabetes is growing at a rapid rate of three to five per cent a year.
”Dead in bed numbers will rise with that,” Dr Howard says.
Dr Howard went on to say that Scientists suspect the increase in type 1 diabetes is related to the modern world’s high levels of hygiene – and to infant feeding.
Dr Howard says: ”We see that as countries become more ‘westernised’ so their rates of type 1 diabetes increases. ”The hypothesis is that when a baby’s born it gets an incredible dose of antibodies from breast milk. From an early stage the little baby’s body and more importantly its immune system is trying to work out: ‘what belongs inside me and what doesn’t? What is foreign and what is acceptable?’
He also remarked that “One theory is that processed rather than breast milk is responsible -or the early introduction of other processed baby foods”.
”By not exposing our babies at a very young age to germs, dirt, and all forms of bacteria, the body never really learns to differentiate between the good cells and the bad – there’s only a limited time for the body to learn these things.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune cells mistakenly attack its own insulin-producing beta cells, destroying them and the person’s ability to produce insulin. Insulin is needed to regulate the amount of sugar in the blood and people cannot survive without the hormone.
Diabetes expert Maria Craig, from the University of NSW, said research suggested four key factors were associated with the rising prevalence of the disease: common enteroviruses that caused rashes and other symptoms; rapid weight gain in early infancy; cows’ milk baby formula; and vitamin D deficiency.
U.S. News and World Report asked author Dan Hurley to discuss the top 5 possible reasons. Each of the reasons assumes the individual’s genetic predisposition to developing the disease. Here are Hurley’s Five:
Accelerated Growth – Children that grow too quickly put extra stress on their body and their organs, essentially triggering their genetic predisposal to diabetes.
Good Day Sunshine – Studies have shown that people living further away from the equator are more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes. They also tend to have lower levels of vitamin D, which is known as the sunshine vitamin, in their bodies. Is there a link?
Cleanliness Is Not Next to Godliness – Being too clean can be a bad thing because it may actually deny us access to specific germs and parasites, therefore making it difficult for us to build up immunity to certain diseases. In fact, researchers are currently exploring the possible use of parasitic worms in the treatment and prevention of certain autoimmune diseases, including diabetes.
Milking It – One theory suggests that feeding a baby cow’s milk within the first six months after birth may affect the child’s immune system and increase their risk of autoimmune diseases, including diabetes. Recent studies have suggested a link between breast feeding and a lower risk for Type 1 diabetes.
Environmental Pollution – There have been numerous studies examining the possible link between diabetes and pollutants, such as toxic waste and pesticides. However, the evidence shows a clearer connection between Type 2 diabetes and pollutants. Such connections are not as clear with Type 1, according to Hurley and the U.S News and World Report article.