Early life factors, like breastfeeding and daycare, impact autoimmunity later in life. A study was recently published that looked at what impact both breastfeeding and daycare have on the development of the autoimmune condition type 1 diabetes later in life. The highly interesting results are not what you might expect.
Early Life and Autoimmunity, The Impact of Daycare and Breastfeeding
Dr. Michael Ruscio: Early life and autoimmunity, the impact of daycare and breastfeeding.
Hi, this is Dr. Ruscio, and you’ve likely heard something about autoimmunity. Autoimmunity is a condition or more than one condition in which your immune system attacks tissue of your body. When it does that, it can damage the tissue and then cause a disease state. In hypothyroid, there’s thyroid autoimmunity known as Hashimoto’s. Multiple sclerosis is a form of autoimmunity that affects neurological tissue. Rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints. Psoriasis and eczema affect the skin. Celiac affects the intestines. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease affect the intestines.
There’s also type 1 diabetes, which affects the pancreas, and this study looked at type 1 diabetes. It looked at early life factors like breastfeeding and daycare and what effect they have on later development of type 1 diabetes.
Just as a little bit of background, early life factors like environment can be very impactful on the development or prevention of autoimmunity. We just don’t know exactly how it works yet because there are many factors and we’re not sure how they all congeal together to create one outcome. The findings from this study, I thought, were very interesting and worth sharing.
From this study, if you attend daycare before two years of age and are not breastfed, it increases your risk for type 1 diabetes. However, if you attend daycare before two years of age and are breastfed, it decreases your risk. What does this mean? Well, what it may mean, and I’m trying to see if I can explain these results, and I may be wrong because this is an area we still don’t fully understand, but one of the things that we know is that the healthier your initial years are in terms of having ample exposure to dirt and germs and bacteria and what have you, that can help prevent autoimmunity, but it’s not a blanket statement. If you have somewhat hygienic early years but you have one or two periods of exposure to more dirt or germs or bacteria, that may actually make your immune system react more strongly and cause autoimmunity. What it may have to do with is if you don’t have robust and continuous exposure, these periodic exposures may cause your immune system to look at these things like foreign agents trying to attack.
Here’s another example that maybe will help. If young children grow up on farms, it protects from autoimmunity. However, if young children grow up in a more sanitary environment, like in a city, and then they go and they visit a farm periodically, that may make autoimmunity or allergies worse. Again, if you’re growing up on a farm, that’s continuous exposure that trains your immune system. If you’re not growing up on a farm but periodically visiting one, that may, to your immune system, look like these punctuated bursts of bacteria and cause your immune system to attack and react, and that may provoke autoimmunity.
So perhaps what’s happening here is when the breastfeeding and the bacteria that we garner from that is combined with the daycare exposure, that is enough to create this environment of constant exposure that then trains the immune system and prevents it from overreacting. But if you’re not breastfed, you don’t have that exposure, and then you go to daycare, then the daycare may be, by itself, enough to look like a punctuated burst of bacteria coming in, causing the immune system to react.
Those are my musings on why this finding may be. Again, it’s an area we’re still trying to understand, and the immune system is infinitely complex, so things here are very rarely incredibly straightforward, but in any case, hopefully this helps. In my coming book, I will have a chapter all dedicated to early life factors and what you can do to optimize the health of your body if you’re a mother and of your child’s body to help prevent autoimmune and allergic conditions in them.
Anyway, hopefully this helps you get healthy and get back to your life. Thanks.
What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.
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