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Sydney (dpa) - Pregnant women who eat potatoes are increasing the risk their offspring will develop type 1 diabetes, an Australian study released Monday showed.
Researchers at Melbourne's International Diabetes Institute believe that bafilomycin, a toxin found in potatoes and other root vegetables, can trigger type 1 diabetes in those children who are predisposed to it.
People with type 1 diabetes are born with it whereas type 2 diabetes is contracted through lifestyle choices and obesity.
Type 1 diabetics need to check blood sugar and take insulin. They are at greater risk of blindness, amputations, kidney disease and heart disease.
The researchers found pregnant mice fed tiny amounts of bafilomycin were more likely to produce offspring that later developed type 1 diabetes.
Between 5 and 10 per cent of people could have the gene that makes them susceptible to type 1 diabetes, which is also called insulin-dependent diabetes. Type 1 diabetes affects 15 per cent of Australians and is most commonly diagnosed in children aged five to seven years of age or at puberty.
Biochemist Paul Zimmet, director of the institute, said the findings do not apply to every pregnant woman.
"We've got to remember that only people who might be susceptible genetically to the environmental factor who would get type 1 diabetes, so most people in the community can obviously safely eat potatoes," he told Australia's ABC Radio.
The risk is greater in a foetus than in a child because the foetus does not have a fully developed immune system.
Professor Zimmet said that linking the disease to diet would change thinking on type 1 diabetes.
"We think people have been looking in the wrong place," he said. "(They've been) looking at the events during childhood rather than what happened to the mother during pregnancy."
Zimmet estimated that 13 per cent of potatoes that go to market in Australia have the "scabs" that denote the presence of bafilomycin. The toxin can't be killed by cooking.
He advised pregnant women with a family history of type 1 diabetes to remove the "scabs" when they peel potatoes.
Countries where lots of root vegetables are eaten have high rates of type 1 diabetes, Zimmet said.
"The highest rates of diabetes in the world are in Finland and Sardinia," he said. "The Finns are very big potato eaters and the Sardinians are big eaters of sugar beet - these are two classic vegetables that are infected with this organism."
The findings at the institute will be presented this week to the American Diabetes Association Congress in the United States.
Copyright 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH