Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Breast Feeding - giving baby more than you thought.

Human milk has been found to contain complex sugars known as oligosaccharides with far more variety than our fellow mammals. There are to date 200 human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) identified and they are the third most abundant ingredient after lactose and fats. However, it has been discovered that babies cannot digest HMOs, so what are they for?

It is known that HMOs pass through the stomach and small intestine without being digested and are destined for the large bowel where most of our useful bacteria are. Kuhn and Gyorgy et al determined that the HMOs in human milk are there to feed microbes in your baby's gut.

The microbe who benefits most from the HMOs is Bifidobacterium longum infantis (B. infantis), often the most prolific microbe found in the guts of breast fed babies.  In repayment for being fed such a plentiful diet the B. infantis releases short-chain fatty acids, a food for gut cells. This food allows the gut cells to make proteins that act as a glue, sealing any gaps between the cells that could allow harmful microbes into the blood stream causing infection. B. infantis when fed on cow milk does not perform this service and explains why breast fed babies are so much healthier.

Research shows that breast fed babies have higher IQs. HMOs could be responsible for this. B. infantis also releases, when fed on HMOs, a nutrient named Sialic Acid. The amazingly fast brain growth that humans experience is nurtured by Sialic Acid and so it is safe to say that human milk makes your baby clever. Cow milk does nothing for a baby's immune system or brain development.

 Scientist have put HMO fed B. infantis to the test and so far they are protecting your baby from:
  • Salmonella.
  • Listeria.
  • Vibrio cholerae (cholera).
  • Campylobacter jejuni (bacterial diarrhoea).
  • Entamoeba histolytica (dysentery).
  • E. coli.
  • HIV.
Research is now being done on premature babies who can develop a fatal gut condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). As the name suggests, the baby's gut is being eaten away by bacteria which commonly turns the gut tissue black. Premature babies are now being fed breast milk and B. infantis to try and prevent NEC. B. infantis is no use without the HMOs proliferate in breast milk. They will not protect the baby if fed cow milk alone. Premature babies are not good at sucking but maternal milk can be pumped and kept out of the fridge for 5 hours to ensure that the ingredients are still alive when given to baby, often via a feeding tube. This new research could revolutionise how we feed early babies and put a stop to the all too common condition of NEC.

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