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In the world of diabetes, more than 92 percent of all patients have either prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, with the remaining eight percent having either type 1 or type 1.5 diabetes.
Both type 1 and type 1.5 diabetes are autoimmune conditions that have a genetic basis, but often require an environmental ‘trigger’ to begin.
Given that type 1 diabetes has increased by 100 percent in prevalence over the past 25 years, scientists are constantly on the lookout for environmental triggers that might help explain why the rate of type 1 diabetes diagnosis is higher today than it has been at any point in human history, and why the prevalence of type 1 diabetes is increasing by about three percent per year.
MAP in Dairy Products Increase The Risk Of Type 1 Diabetes
Even though many people think of autoimmune conditions as being caused by poor genetics, a collection of fascinating research is suggesting that drinking milk and eating meat can both increase your risk for type 1 diabetes and type 1.5 diabetes—in addition to Crohn’s disease—via a specific pathogen known as mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP).
MAP is a distant relative of the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis, which is the culprit for tuberculosis (TB) and leprae (leprosy) in humans and TB in animals. MAP does not cause TB or leprosy in humans.
MAP is a mycobacterium, or a bacteria that grows like a fungus, and has been shown to influence susceptibility to autoimmune type 1 diabetes.
Studies show the connection between MAP and type 1 diabetes apparent that a recent review of current scientific literature showed that 100 percent of human studies analyzed detected the presence of MAP bacteria in those living with type 1 diabetes.
So how does MAP enter the food supply? Well, it’s a little… unsavory. MAP infects the gastrointestinal tract of industrialized cows (cows being raised for food or milk) causing an often fatal condition known as Johne’s disease.
While the MAP bacteria lives in the intestines of cows, it is also present in the fecal matter of infected cows, which means that the MAP bacteria can easily be passed between animals exposed to one another’s fecal material. Unfortunately, this is all too common when hundreds or thousands of cows are living together in close quarters, as is common in large industrialized farms.
Under ideal conditions, MAP present in the intestines and fecal matter of livestock would pose no threat to human health, assuming that their intestines were removed after slaughter and their fecal matter remained separated from the slaughterhouse.
However, when animals are slaughtered, fecal residue from the soil ends up clinging to the boots, clothes, and gloves of slaughterhouse workers, which then cross-contaminates the carcasses of the animals, contaminating both the milk and the meat products en route to the grocery store.
No matter how stringent the conditions are at industrial slaughterhouses, MAP migrates into dairy and meat products; avoiding this fecal contamination when animals are slaughtered is virtually impossible at large scale.
This means that MAP is present in milk and dairy products that you purchase at the grocery store, including raw milk, bulk milk, pasteurized milk, infant food formula, cheese, ice cream, and flavored milk drinks. A study published in 2007 revealed that more than 68 percent of all U.S dairy operations housed cows infected with MAP, and that more than 95 percent of farms containing more than 500 cows housed animals infected with MAP.
Even though milk must be pasteurized (treated at high heat to kill off disease-causing bacteria) before being sold at grocery stores, a small fraction of live MAP bacteria can survive pasteurization.
Approximately three out of every 100 milk products purchased in the U.S contain living MAP bacteria, meaning that milk and milk products are a vehicle that transports infectious bacteria directly from cows to humans, increasing risk for developing various autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes.
MAP is Also Present in Meat Products
MAP is also present in the meat you buy at the grocery store or butcher, including beef, pork, chicken, and organ tissues. Studies have shown that between 15-20 percent of commonly eaten meat products test positive for MAP DNA, and that ground beef presents the greatest risk for transporting MAP into the human food chain.
A recent investigation in 298 children in Sardinia, Italy, found that those who ate more meat before the age of two years old developed significantly more cases of type 1 diabetes and that ‘high meat consumption tends to be an important early life cofactor for type 1 diabetes development’.
This same research team also showed that both milk consumption and meat intake are significantly correlated with the incidence of type 1 diabetes in children younger than 15 years old in forty countries around the world.
What Causes Autoimmunity?
But how exactly does autoimmunity happen in the first place? The process is known as molecular mimicry, a sneaky tactic used by various bacteria and viruses in which pathogenic proteins attempt to evade detection by the human immune system by ‘disguising’ themselves as mammalian proteins.
In both young children and adults, microscopic holes in the lining of your gut wall allow pathogenic proteins to pass directly from your digestive system into your blood before they have been sufficiently cut by digestive enzymes.
Once these pathogenic proteins are present in your blood, your immune system recognizes them as foreign proteins and mounts an immune response that targets them for destruction. But because these pathogenic proteins contain specific regions that mimic proteins found in your body, your immune system can mistakenly target proteins on human cells in tissues all over your body for destruction, setting the stage for an autoimmune reaction.
Think of autoimmunity as a form of biological ‘friendly fire’ in which your immune system is hijacked by a pathogenic protein that tricks your immune system into destroying critical human cells containing proteins with a similar structure.
When infected with MAP, your immune system manufactures antibodies that mistakenly attack the ZnT8 protein on the surface of beta cells, targeting them for destruction.
To target these proteins for destruction, your immune system activates cells known as macrophages to engulf and destroy entire beta cells, leading to a near or complete loss of insulin production.
As is true in almost all biological scenarios, the connection between dairy and meat consumption and type 1 diabetes is indefinite. Therefore, not everyone who drinks dairy and eats cattle, sheep, goats is at risk for type 1 diabetes.
But what this evidence does indicate is that even pasteurized dairy products at the grocery store may harbor living MAP bacteria, which can influence your risk for the development of type 1 diabetes. Despite needing more novel studies to demonstrate MAP’s causation for Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, it is not worth the detrimental risk on your health.
Given that the insulin producing beta cells in your pancreas are the only cells in your body capable of manufacturing insulin, it’s important to ensure that the food you eat protects these critical cells at all ages.
While reducing your intake of dairy products can minimize your risk for type 1 diabetes, eliminating dairy products altogether is the safest way to truly minimize your risk.