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October 20, 2003

Research: Causes and Prevention

Question from Athens, Georgia, USA:

I am 27 years old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes about four years ago, and I worked for a pharmaceutical production site at the time. While working there, I was exposed to a large amount of concentrated bovine serum albumin (BSA) powder while not wearing a mask or respirator, and I have seen a lot of research linking this protein in cow's milk with type 1 diabetes in children. The studies say that the protein can slip through the intestinal walls of infants which then causes the immune system to mistake insulin producing cells with the BSA and attacks the insulin cells. Would it be possible to get the protein in the bloodstream by inhaling this concentrated powder? If so, could this lead to diabetes in a similar way as it does in infants?

Answer:

It is possible for proteins or at least large fragments of proteins to penetrate the pulmonary epithelium because that is the basis for inhaled insulin. However, I could find no account that linked inhalation of Bovine Serum Albumin to type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes.

The theory that early exposure to cow’s milk protein was an important environmental trigger for type 1 diabetes started some years ago in Finland, and over time, there were conflicting reports until it was finally suggested that the culprit was not bovine serum albumin but A1 beta casein or more exactly a combination of A1+B beta casein. However, even this variance did not stand up to further investigation, and quite recently, this idea was finally laid to rest. In short, I think that it is unlikely that inhalation of BSA was the cause of your diabetes.

DOB