Caesarean babies 'at diabetes risk'
August 25, 2008
Babies born by Caesarean section have a 20% increased chance of becoming
insulin-dependent diabetics in childhood, say researchers.
Although the reason for the link is not clear, scientists believe exposure
to hospital bacteria may be involved.
Childhood infections, along with genetics, are already known to play an
important role in the development of type 1 diabetes. The disease is an
autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks insulin-producing cells
in the pancreas.
Around 250,000 people in the UK have type 1 diabetes, which usually occurs
in childhood and has to be managed with life-long insulin injections. Type two
diabetes, a different disease linked to lifestyle and obesity, is suffered
by some two million people.
The Caesarean discovery emerged from an analysis of the results of 20
published studies on type 1 diabetes in children. Researchers found that children
delivered by Caesarean section were 23% more likely to develop the disease
than those who had natural births.
The increased risk could not be explained by other factors such as birth
weight, mother's age, order of birth, pregnancy-related diabetes or whether or
not a baby was breast fed.
On average, 24% of women giving birth in England undergo a Caesarean
operation. The rate is significantly higher than the 15% recommended by the World
Dr Chris Cardwell, from Queen's University Belfast, who led the research
reported in the online journal Diabetologia, said: "This study shows a
consistent 20% increase in the risk of type 1 diabetes. It is important to stress that
the reason for this is still not understood although it is possible that the
Caesarean section itself is responsible, perhaps because babies born via
that method are first exposed to bacteria originating from the hospital
environment rather than to maternal bacteria.
"Type 1 diabetes in childhood has become much more prevalent across Europe
recently and the rate of this increase suggests that environmental factors are
the cause. However, despite much investigation, these actual factors remain
Dr Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK, said: "Not
all women have the choice of whether to have a Caesarean section or not, but
those who do may wish to take this risk into consideration before choosing to
give birth this way."