Potatoes feared as diabetes trigger
By Helen Tobler
June 9, 2003
Australian researchers have found that mothers who eat vegetables such as potatoes and turnips when pregnant could increase their child's risk of developing diabetes.
It has long been suspected that there is an environmental trigger for type 1 diabetes, but only now have researchers found a possible cause.
The culprit is bafilomycin, a toxin found in some bacteria called streptomyces that infect vegetables such as potatoes, Sugar beets, turnips and radishes.
The research was headed by Paul Zimmet, director of Melbourne's International Diabetes Institute, and Mark Myers, of Monash University.
Dr Myers will tell the American Diabetes Association Congress in New Orleans this week that the bafilomycin toxin could be a trigger for type 1 diabetes in children with a genetic susceptibility.
The research team discovered that bafilomycin in diets could cause type 1 diabetes, but they were not sure why this happened.
In experiments on mice, they found that pregnant mice that were fed tiny amounts of the toxin were far more likely to give birth to babies which later developed type 1 diabetes.
"It occurred to Myers that during pregnancy the mother eating foods that might have these toxins affected the development of the pancreas," Professor Zimmet said. "So in genetically susceptible subjects ... it might then turn on type 1 diabetes."
Between 5 and 10 per cent of people could have the gene that made them susceptible to type 1 diabetes, he said.
Populations where tuberous vegetables were widely eaten had high rates of diabetes, Professor Zimmet said.
"The highest rates of diabetes in the world are in Finland and Sardinia, and the Finns are very big potato eaters and the Sardinians are big eaters of Sugar beet.
"These are two classic vegetables that are infected by this organism."
Professor Zimmet said an estimated 13 per cent of potatoes that went to market in Australia were infected with the bacteria, which cannot be destroyed through cooking.
These tuberous vegetables often entered the food chain indirectly, such as through food for livestock.
"They could be right through the food chain, but it's (diabetes) only going to happen in people who have got the susceptibility to diabetes."
An estimated 100,000 Australians and 2 million children worldwide have type 1 diabetes, which makes up 10 to 15 per cent of all diabetes cases. The disease is different to type 2 diabetes, which is triggered by lifestyle factors.