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Milk Consumption Is Linked to Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, which typically strikes children and young adults, is an autoimmune disease in which our own immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of our pancreas. Untreated it’s deadly, but even with well-managed insulin replacement, it may shorten life expectancy by a decade. “Families are devastated when a child receives a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes…Thus, one of modern medicine’s ‘holy grails’” is to understand what causes the body to attack itself, in the hopes that we can cure or prevent the disease. Genetic susceptibility plays an important role, but the “concordance for type 1 diabetes is only about 50% among identical twins.” So, even if someone with our exact same DNA gets the disease, there’s only about a 50 percent chance we will get it, too—meaning there must be external factors as well.

Some countries have low rates of incidence, and others have high rates. Japan, for example, has type 1 diabetes rates 18 times lower than the United States. This disparity isn’t due only to genetics, however, because, when children migrate, they tend to acquire the risk of their new home, suggesting it’s got something to do with the environment, diet, or lifestyle. In fact, the incidence rates vary more than 350-fold around the world. Some countries have rates hundreds of times higher than others, and it is on the rise. Researchers looked at 37 populations from around the world and found that the incidence has been increasing about 3 percent a year—our genes don’t change that fast. In fact, they couldn’t find a single population with decreasing incidence of type 1 diabetes.

Something is going on that started around the end of World War II. “The best evidence available suggests that childhood diabetes [also known as type 1 diabetes] showed a stable and relatively low incidence over the first half of the 20th century, followed by a clear increase that began…around…the middle of the century.” Why the increase, though? A number of factors have been postulated, including vitamin D deficiency, certain infections, or exposure to cow’s milk.

Decades ago, published cross-country comparisons showed a tight correlation between milk consumption and the incidence of  type 1 diabetes. The “analysis showed that 94% of the geographic variation in incidence might be explained by differences in milk consumption.” Investigators in Finland, the country with the highest rates of type 1 diabetes and cow’s milk consumption, led much of the research into this area.

It all started with studies like the one I feature in my video Does Casein in Milk Trigger Type 1 Diabetes?, showing that the less babies are breastfed, the higher the rates of type 1 diabetes, leading to the obvious conclusion that “[b]reast-milk protects the newborn infant.” On the other hand, if babies are not getting breast milk, they’re getting formula, which probably contains cow’s milk proteins. In the first few months of life, our gut is especially leaky to proteins. Is it possible that as our immune system attacks the foreign cow proteins, our pancreas gets caught in the crossfire? This was based on animal experiments, however. In susceptible mice, a diet containing the cow’s milk protein, casein, produced diabetes, but it did not cause diabetes in rats. So, are we more like mice or rats?

Researchers drew blood from children with type 1 diabetes to see if they had elevated levels of antibodies that attack bovine proteins compared to controls. Their finding? Every single child with type 1 diabetes had elevated anti-bovine protein antibodies circulating in their blood compared to much lower levels in the control subjects. That seems pretty convincing, but what about Iceland? They drink more milk in Iceland than in Finland, yet Icelanders have less than half the type 1 diabetes. I explore this paradox in my follow-up video Does Bovine Insulin in Milk Trigger Type 1 Diabetes?.

The vast majority of diabetes cases are type 2, so that’s been my concentration:

I’m pleased to have been able to address type 1 diabetes. For even more on this disease, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

42 responses to “Milk Consumption Is Linked to Type 1 Diabetes

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  1. Poor Finland.

    Wow, they are leading the way in more than one of the wrong things.

    I ended up going over and re-reading the study on hormone replacement therapy increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

    In our large case-control study of 84 739 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and a similar number of control women, we showed that the systemic use of estradiol only or oestrogen-progestogen therapy was associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, whereas use of vaginal estradiol showed no such risk. The age at initiation of hormone therapy did not appear to be a determinant for risk of the disease, whereas in women younger than 60 at treatment initiation, the risk increases were associated with exposure to hormone therapy for over 10 years.

    Estrogen is protective, but hormone replacement isn’t in this study.

    Soy? I know the studies went back and forth. I have to look it up again.

    Hard to keep everything straight.

    I do have Finland on my list.

      1. Answering my own question about Type 15./LADA

        Significantly increased levels of antibodies to beta-casein were found in patients with Type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease and in LADA compared to age-matched controls (p = 0.01, p = 0.02 and p = 0.01, respectively). No differences were observed in beta-casein antibody titres between patients with other disease conditions (MS, and ATD) and age-matched controls. The highest antibody response to beta-casein in Type 1 diabetic patients and in patients with coeliac disease could reflect the gut mucosal immune disorders common to Type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease. Furthermore, the elevated beta-casein antibody levels found in LADA patients suggest that the antibody response to this protein may be relevant in autoimmune diabetes.

      1. Are you referring the very very dangerous stuff people are calling Raw Milk, that causes MAJOR illnesses?
        May be true if given to today’s version of a person… but I grew up on a dirt farm and we drank raw milk at every meal.

        At times the milk would taste “weedy” from the cows eating certain grasses or weeds from the pasture. Maybe our milk was vegetarian? ‘-)

        Oh, and sometimes it was described as “blinky”… I never knew what that meant, exactly.

        1. Yes, raw cow’s milk.

          One problem w cattle is it’s genetic engineered/manipulated constitution. Cattle is not native to many of the continents it abides on including North America. There is a great movie by James Michener (sp) that speaks of the US mid west migration of civilization. It hits on this. And ends exposing the all mighty Greed Factor. I typically feel in love w the Scots man leaving Scotland. Forgot my he actors name. The Frenchman hero bore my father’s name. Haha. Great movie. Any hoot, as I said cows milk doesn’t agree w me. I am concerned that pasteurization zonks it of nutritive value.

          1. There is a great movie by James Michener (sp) that speaks of the US mid west migration of civilization.
            I suspect you are referring to the mini-series “Centennial.” Michener was IMO, one of the greatest writer/researchers of all time. I always felt if he portrayed it in a book, it was as historically accurate as a history book.

      2. As you probably know, „organic“ typically does not refer to the way food is processed, but rather how it is sourced/produced/raised. So the answer is probably, no – the comment refers to organically produced milk within the (very lax) restrictions of that label.

        But to the point: if bovine insulin is the problematic factor, does it matter whether it’s organic milk or not?

  2. I think pasteurization should be considered, and ultra-pasteurization. Yes germs, but more care w live-stock, much more. Eg the pregnant mare and harvesting her urine for estrogen. (Nothing to do w cow’s milk, but if you truly care for horses, set them free (stop the breeding). Now, if and when we go “off the grid”, well God bless the horse to man and may God bless man w the humaneness he should already have (in caretaking the horse, difficult.)
    I was watching a movie, and in one scene, a farm woman was selling geese to a buyer. There were 100s of geese inside a barn, surely eatin, stepping on, wallowing in their own pee and poop. She picked up a goose by its neck for the buyer and literally every goose in the barn turned its head to observe. How “Da!” can “Da!” be…?

    Personally, I don’t eat or drink much dairy. It doesn’t agree w me.

    I have read that w any disease, even a cold, one should o stain from dairy among other things.

    I think raw milk has health benefits, but maybe in moderation instead of w every meal. Now that’s “Da!” Lol

  3. I attended medical school from 1988 to 1992 and remember learning dairy increased risk for T1DM and that “breast is best”. Sad that knowledge is not commonplace in practice yet, almost 30 years on. The lobbies for big dairy, big ag are just to powerful to let rationality dictate behaviors.

    1. Mims,

      Your comment reminds me of when my daughter was an infant, born at the end of 1989. Her pediatrician/nurse told me not to feed her cow’s milk before her first birthday, but to use formula if I felt the need to supplement my breast feeding. So I diligently read the ingredient label of the available formulas: and they were all based on cow’s milk!! So what was that all about?

      I never asked. But, needless to say, this helped my trust and faith in doctors drop to a new low. Plummet, perhaps. It’s been in free fall ever since.

      And I didn’t use formula.

      Sadly, we did give her milk, after age 1. And though she was vegetarian at my house, she wasn’t at her dad’s.

      1. That’s because you didn’t bother to investigate further and just assumed that your doctor was wrong.

        According to one website

        ‘Many parents ask why they can’t just feed their baby regular cow’s milk. The answer is simple: Young infants cannot digest cow’s milk as completely or easily as they digest formula.

        Also, cow’s milk contains high concentrations of protein and minerals, which can stress a newborn’s immature kidneys and cause severe illness at times of heat stress, fever, or diarrhea. In addition, cow’s milk lacks the proper amounts of iron, vitamin C, and other nutrients that infants need. It may even cause iron-deficiency anemia in some babies, since cow’s milk protein can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestine, leading to loss of blood into the stools. Cow’s milk also does not contain the healthiest types of fat for growing babies. For these reasons, your baby should not receive any regular cow’s milk for the first twelve months of life.’

  4. The LADA question is a big one.

    More and more people are Type 1.5.

    I will tell you that I have a list of the lab tests I will do and because of the Mastering Diabetes website, I will do a C-Peptide test just to see where I stand.

    I don’t have the symptoms anymore, but I still have never had an A1C test or a C-Peptide test and I feel like those 2 will be on my baseline tests list.

    They do lab test sales, so I will be looking for those. Next year is almost here.

    It has officially really been 2 years since I first happened on this site.

    Dr. Greger, you have blessed me so many times and since it is Thanksgiving week I want to make sure to thank you for all of the work you have done and I want to thank all of the researchers and volunteers and moderators for this site.

    Yes, I will do it again on Thanksgiving, but I happen to thank God for this site all of the time, so it is already part of my daily process.

  5. Two years ago, I was making 2 non-vegan dishes to bring to the 2 Thanksgiving gatherings I was heading to.

    I particularly remember announcing here that I would not give up milk or cheese.

    That was just about Thanksgiving and by New Year’s Day, I thought I gave up cheese, but I was still unknowingly eating it. It took quite a few months after that for me to move from vegan transition food to approaching Whole Food Plant-Based.

  6. There are so many great reasons not to consume dairy! This is just one of many. My son has type 1 and I was initially angered when I learned dairy could have been a trigger. He was breast fed, but drank cows milk (later). At least now, he is well managed and we always hope for the best for him. As a parent, though, we never want these things to happen to our children.

    Take the message from this blog and all the other reasons not to drink milk or eat dairy products. Take it out of the grocery cart and don’t buy it.

  7. Check out connection for type 1 diabetes and mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis. This bug causes crohns disease and is a disease in sheep and cattle. Some countries would be higher in mycobacterium rates and may account for the discrepancy comparing Iceland to finland. The disease is called Johne’s disease in cattle

    1. One problem in the Bovine is the genetically engineered grain it is fed. Also cows do not like walking in their own dung. This obviously should have been remedy. But the $$ factor always beats.

      1. Yes and one ot the problems with tobacco is that commercially-grown plants are fed with artificial fertilisers, sprayed with all kinds of ‘cides and are ‘cut’ with various noxious chemicals in cigarettes etc to ensure an even, pleasant burn.

        Wild picked and organically grown non-GMO tobaccos are harmless and may even have health benefits eg in Parkinson’s disease.

        \Yet some people tell me that this claim is absurd wishful thinking.

        1. For some reason tobacco use turns into addictive abuse.

          I have heard it is an anti depressant. Prob better than chemically derived anti depressants blaaaa.

          The Indigenous don’t abuse tobacco, or anything for that matter.

          The average smoker is said to lose about 10 yrs of longevity. Not good.

          1. Deb

            Yes, I think there was originally a correlation between smoking and lower Parkinson’s rates which prompted the nicotine studies.

            TBH, though I was really just being sarcastic. All the claims about the evidence indicating that there are health risks from meat and dairy, not applying to organic, grass-fed non-pasteurised versions seem based not on actual evidence but on tortuous chains of reasoning that make huge leaps of logic (AKA wishful thinking)..

            1. Yes, health claims such as “where’s the beef” and other such societal speculation and experimentation for who knows how long, and incidentally, wrong but again.

    1. hickory_hollow,

      The thing about this topic is that they won’t know that answer, but Type 1 Diabetes and Type 1.5 are diseases that don’t go away.

      Not worth the risk to eat the kefir that is made from dairy milk.

  8. Below is an excerpt from a study found in the link at the bottom. This is apparently a solution to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, regardless of the cause.

    Diabetes mellitus (DM) is classified into two main subtypes: 1 and 2. Type 1 DM results from the destruction of the pancreatic β-cells and lack of insulin secretion; it is accompanied by high blood glucose concentrations and ketoacidosis.1,2 However, Type 2 DM (T2D) is more common and is frequently linked to obesity.3,4

    It has been previously shown that T2D could affect the pancreatic endocrine (islets of Langerhans) and exocrine systems (pancreatic acini). T2D in many cases is accompanied by a decrease in body weight and many digestive disturbances, which may rely on the enzymatic functional defect of the pancreatic exocrine system.5–7

    It has been suggested that dietary antioxidants may play a role in reducing the risk of T2D as well as its complications.20 The extracts derived from Ginkgo biloba (GB) have been frequently used in traditional medicine and has been shown to exhibit antioxidant potency.21 GB extract leads to significant alterations in antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase) and total antioxidant status.22

    The magnetized water (MW), however, has been also reported to reduce blood glucose, improve antioxidant status, and lipid profiles in streptozotocin-induced diabetes in rats.21,23 This protective effect of MW is induced by elevating the concentration of glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) in serum after one or two months of exposure.24

    The role of natural antioxidants ie GB and MW in protecting β-cells is so far not mentioned in the available literature. This novel study was designed to verify the protective role of administration of GB and MW on pancreatic β-cells.

      1. I have tried magnetized water.

        Not sure if it did anything
        I’ve been doing it for years. Like you I have no concrete proof it is beneficial although this study and others suggest it is.

        On the other hand, My gut generally suggests to my brain I discontinue a regimen if I’m not benefiting, and I have followed this one even to the point of when away from home for any amount of time, I make sure to load some magnetized water in the car.

        1. Oh, and I’m about to order some liquid drops of Ginkgo Biloba to add to my tea. I’m currently taking it as veggie caps but feel like something that may be consumed sublingually to a degree will be better.

  9. This is complete bull. People will always try and find ways to blame us t1d’s type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease caused by genetics. Nothing we eat or drink can cause it and no amount of exercise will prevent it.

  10. Dr Greger
    My daughter was recently diagnosed with coldagglutinin. She has had a vegan WFPB diet for two years. Drs do not know what to do for her except to keep warm. Sometimes her fingers turn a slight blue. She looses her breath at times and heart rate speeds up at times.
    Is diabetes linked to this auto immune disease?
    What WFPB foods are best to eat with this disease?
    Can this disease be reversed with a WFPB diet?
    Thank you Dr Greger. You are an inspiration to all.

    1. Hello Angela,

      I’m very sorry to hear about your daughter’s condition. Unfortunately that isn’t something that Nutritionfacts has covered yet, so I would suggest asking your doctor for more advice on the topic and get a 2nd opinion if you aren’t able to get satisfactory answers.

      All the best,
      Dr. Matt

  11. I could not find anything on the reversal of type 1 diabetes on this site, so I did a little google search and found an interesting case study. It was published in the journal of Biomedical Research (2019) Volume 30, Issue 3 and is titled:

    “Reversal of type 1 diabetes using plant-based diet: A case study”

    The author writes that they “were successfully able to eliminate her medication and insulin dependency” using a plant based diet. The patient is a 23 year old woman who was already 8 years on 60U of insulin per day. Even though it’s just a case study, it might still be worth a video because acording to the authors: “this is the first report of a diabetes type 1 reversal in the world as per best of our knowledge.”

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