University of Wisconsin–Madison

Healthy Cows – Healthy Kids

In the journal Microorganisms, Dr. C.T. Dow and L.A. Sechi present a hypothesis paper titled: Cows Get Crohn’s Disease and They’re Giving Us Diabetes. This 10-page article with 111 references was published 17-OCT-2019 and is an Open Access article and is a very worthy read.


Increasingly, Johne’s disease of ruminants and human Crohn’s disease are regarded as the same infectious disease: paratuberculosis. Mycobacterium avium ss. paratuberculosis (MAP) is the cause of Johne’s and is the most commonly linked infectious cause of Crohn’s disease.  Humans are broadly exposed to MAP in dairy products and in the environment.  MAP has been found within granulomas such as Crohn’s disease and can stimulate autoantibodies in diseases such as type 1 diabetes (T1D) and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.  Moreover, beyond Crohn’s and T1D, MAP is increasingly associated with a host of autoimmune diseases.  This article suggests near equivalency between paucibacillary Johne’s disease of ruminant animals and human Crohn’s disease and implicates MAP zoonosis beyond Crohn’s disease to include T1D.

Facts to know:

Worldwide, the incidence of T1D is increasing. Over the last 25 years, the incidence went up by over 12%. It was 10.9 per 100,000 among children aged 0-14 years in 1990 and rose to 22.5 per 100,000 in 2009.  (Type 1 Diabetes Statistics)

The current prevailing paradigm on the etiology of T1D hypothesizes that environmentally triggered autoimmune destruction of pancreatic beta cells occurs against the background of genetic risk.  (Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2010 Sep; 39(3): 481–497).


Healthy food comes from healthy animals.  It is a reasonable consumer expectation that foods do not harbor zoonotic pathogens, and MAP has earned the zoonotic pathogen designation.  The most direct approach to provide dairy and meat products free of MAP is to place multiple hurdles between the primary source of MAP (infected ruminants) and consumers, a basic HACCP principle.  The first and most essential hurdle is at the farm gate.  Raw milk and meat should originate from animals that are not MAP-infected (at the very least test-negative for JD at the time of harvest).  This will not guarantee the raw products are absolutely MAP-free but it does insure that the bioburden of MAP is far lower than it currently is.  Then downstream food processing methods, such as pasteurization, are more likely to kill or remove and residual MAP.

Animal agriculture and veterinary medicine have all the necessary diagnostic tools and disease epidemiology knowledge to achieve this goal, and multiple countries have national programs that can support this endeavor.  This same approach has worked to prevent humans from getting tuberculosis and brucellosis from cows.  The time has come to stop MAP on the farm as step #1 in preventing contamination our food supply.  Read more about certifying herds based on MAP infection status this here.

The map at the top of this post is from Diapedia The living Textbook of Diabetes.