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March 25, 2003

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Warren, Michigan, USA:

Because of severe reactions to regular infant formula, my granddaughter was on soy formula from the age of one month through fifteen months and then on soy milk from sixteen months until about the age of three years. At 20 months of age, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. My brother also was on soy infant formula as a baby, and developed type 1 diabetes at the age of six. A radio show host indicated there is a link between soy milk and diabetes. Has there been any research done regarding this link?


There is no evidence that soy milk is one of the environmental factors that triggers clinical diabetes in the genetically susceptible. There is nonetheless a link which has given soy formula a small but undeserved reputation for being protective.

About twenty years ago a group in Finland, where the incidence of type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes is more than twice what it is in the U.S., showed a relationship between early exposure to cow’s milk and type 1 diabetes. Subsequent studies did not always confirm this, and more recently, it seemed that the link was to a certain form of beta casein which was only present in certain herds. Even this idea has lost ground, but because, if breast feeding was not possible, soy formula was usually the next alternative, the link was established. In the case of your family, I am sure that soy formula in no way influenced the onset of diabetes.