In a recent e-mail dispatch, Robert Cohen went on at length about the evils of Abbott Laboratories for Pediasure, a nutritional supplement marketed for children ages 1-10.
Cohen writes in his inimitably bizarre style,
Child abuse comes in many forms. Pediaphiles [sic] are child abusers. Pediatrics is the field of medicine dedicated to childhood diseases. The most respected pediatrician to have ever lived, Dr. Benjamin Spock, advised that no child should ever drink cow’s milk, Pediatricians who advise mothers to feed their children bovine secretions can be classified as ignorant child abusers.
. . .
A visit to Abbot Lab’s website reveals a company that is big on diabetes medicines. How ironic. One of the major components of Pediasure is whey protein. The most abundant protein in concentrated whey powder is bovine serum albumin.
On July 30, 1992, the New England Journal of Medicine reported:
“Studies have suggested that bovine serum albumin is the milk protein responsible for the onset of diabetes.”
The claim that bovine serum albumin is a major cause of Type 1 diabetes is one that is repeated incessantly on animal rights web sites, but the reality is a lot less dramatic.
The 1992 NEJM study that Cohen refers to involved Finnish and Canadian researchers who discovered that children with Type 1 diabetes that they examined turned out to have elevated levels of anti-BSA antibodies. In the Finnish case, 100 percent of the children with Type 1 diabetes had high levels of anti-BSA antibodies.
Most animal rights sites tend to cite only this study. They never cite Jill Norris’ 1996 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which, unlike the 1992 report, had a control group.
Norris and others examined 253 children from families that were genetically prone to Type 1 diabetes, and tested them for beta-cell autoimmunity, which is a common precursor to diabetes. Eighteen children had beta-cell autoimmunity. She then added a control group of 163 children who were BCA-negative as a control group. The results?
There were no differences in the proportion of cases and
controls who were exposed to cow’s milk or foods containing cow’s milk or to cereal, fruit and vegetable or meat protein by 3 months or by 6 months of age. These data suggest that early exposure to cow’s milk or other dietary protein is not associated with BCA. This calls into question the
importance of cow’s milk avoidance as a preventive measure for
Part of the problem with the few studies that have found a connection between early exposure to milk and diabetes is that they may not have included accurate information about when infants first consumed milk. Norris specifically constructed her study to minimize this problem,
Our study was designed to overcome what we perceived as limitations in the collection of infant diet information of the previous research. Specifically, we shortened the amount of time that parents had to remember their child’s infant diet, which would likely improve the accuracy of the information. Also, we collected the diet information from the parents before they knew whether their child had beta-cell autoimmunity. Previous studies had collected this from parents of children who already had diabetes, and it has been suggested that parents of sick children respond differently to questions such as these than parents of healthy children.
These improvements in the collection of the infant diet may explain, in part, why our findings are contrary to those of previous studies, which have suggested a 60% increased risk of diabetes if the child had been exposed to cow’s milk by 3 months of age.
In some of the studies that found a link between milk consumption and diabetes, for example, parent were asked to recall their children’s eating habits as infants more than 10 to 15 years after the fact.
Other studies that have looked at infants have come to largely the same conclusion as Norris. University of Florida researchers Mark Atkinson and Noel Maclaren, for example, found that only 10 percent of newly diagnosed diabetics had anti-BSA antibodies. Atkinson wrote a 1996 article for The Lancet outlining the methodological problems with studies that found a link between early milk consumption and diabetes.
Not surprisingly, Robert Cohen has on occasion cited articles by Atkinson suggesting that Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, but Cohen conveniently leaves out any citations to Atkinson and Maclaren’s debunking of the milk hypothesis.
One of the major outcomes of research into whether milk or a virus or other environmental factors cause Type 1 diabetes has lead many researchers to the conclusion that the disease does not have a simple, one-factor cause. Instead, Type 1 diabetes is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors of which milk may or may not play a part.
As Atkinson pointed out in his Lancet article, however, there is clear epidemiological evidence that milk does not play the sort of key role that animal rights activists like to pretend. Finland, Atkinson pointed out, consumes about twice as much milk as Sardinia does, and yet the two countries have similar rates of Type 1 diabetes.
Not so sure about Pediasure. Robert Cohen, Notmilk Newsletter Digest, May 29, 2002.
Florida Researchers: Formula-Fed Babies Are Not At Greater Risk For Diabetes. Melanie Fridl Ross, University of Florida, May 29, 1996.
Cow’s Milk Not Linked to Type 1 Diabetes. ChildrenWithDiabetes.Com, August 28, 1996.
Follow-Up to Cow’s Milk Not Linked to Type 1 Diabetes Report. ChildrenWithDiabetes.Com, September 14, 1996.
Electronic Food Rap. Bill Evers, PhD, RD and April Mason, PhD, VOL. 6 NO. 43, 1996.
NOTMILK – – – SHARE THIS WITH A DIABETIC FRIEND. Robert Cohen, August 24, 2000.
The Diabetes Research Pipeline. Robert S. Dinsmoor, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Summer 2001.
Common Class of Viruses Implicated as Cause of Type 1 Diabetes. Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times, 1994.
Milk & diabetes. Judy Ismach, Physicians Weekly, Septebmer 15, 1997, Vol.XIV, No.35.