Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Qualitative Difference of Breast Milk

There is a lot of research going on with breast milk.  The quest is to a) determine it's qualitative difference(s) from other milks and formulas and b) to develop the most (synthetic) human-like formula possible.  It's a noble quest, especially for those women, who for one reason or another, cannot breast feed their babies.

A large part of breastfeeding falls under what I'll call the "Grandmotherly Mystique."  Breastfeeding was "good for baby" because Grandma said it was (or that it wasn't.)  The number of infants getting breastfed has varied widely from one time of history to another largely depending on social norms and the shifting sands of medical opinion.  For some cultures, like our present American culture, flashes of exposed breasts in public is scandalous and there are not-so subtle pressures to "cover up" and/or not breastfeed.  Some of us remember the Nestle's scandal in the 1980's where formula was being dumped in developing countries where clean water sources were scarce and Nestle's had a huge information campaign to convince mothers in those countries to give up breastfeeding for the "better than mom" infant formula.  In spite of what formula manufacturers have claimed, we have known for a long time that cow's milk and all the store-bought formulas have not been as good for infants as their moms' own breast milk.  But "not as good as" has been more in the realm of faith, quite subjective, and details have been difficult to pin down.  But, science is not to be thwarted.

Recent research projects have discovered the following differences in human breast milk:

  • The protein profile of human milk contains 1606 different proteins compared to only 515 in rhesus macaque milk.  Many of these additional proteins seem related to aiding digestion and absorption for the less developed human infant.
  • The fatty acid profile of human milk has a high level of DHA and ARA -- two fatty acids that play large roles in neurological development.
  • The cellular genetic structure of infants' intestinal tract that are breast fed is substantially different from those babies fed alternatives.  
  • "Good bacteria" colonize breastfed babies digestive tracts better than those fed alternatives. 

 All of these discoveries point to possible reasons why it's been observed that breastfed infants, as a general rule, tend to thrive with fewer problems than their formula-fed neighbors.

Formula manufacturers are taking notice.  Many of them are working on incorporating additional proteins, fats, and bacteria into their products.  Sadly, while this improves the nutrition for babies fed these formulas it leaves those babies born into poverty without them.  Of course, hopefully those babies will still have mom and get the real deal.

My advice remains the same as it's been for twenty years, breastfeed your babies if there is any way possible in God's green earth for at least 6 months and 18-24 months isn't too long.

NatureWords for Health, 
Dr. Mark  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Breastfeeding, Food Introductions, and Food Allergies

The report is out from a pretty thoroughly done assessment of data looking at one of the common naturopathic notions about food allergies.  We naturopaths have held the belief that many food allergies occur because duration of breastfeeding is too short and/or foods are introduced too early before the digestive system is developed enough to handle it.  In a supplement to the journal Pediatrics (2014;134:S1-S2, S21-S28) this study shows that long-held belief is not true.  There was no association found between food allergies and either duration of breastfeeding or what foods are introduced first. So concerning food allergies, parents need not worry about food introductions.  

Interestingly, there were other factors identified that did show higher risk for food allergies.  These factors included: higher family income, higher maternal education level, appearance of eczema before age 1, and a family history of food allergy.  The study did not examine how or why the income or education level would impact development of a food allergies.

But before we toss out the long-held mistaken belief entirely, there were other health-related issues which did correlate with food introductions and breastfeeding including:

  • An association between longer duration of breastfeeding and later introduction of foods or beverages other than breast milk, and lower rates of ear, nose, throat, and sinus infections in the year preceding the survey.
  • A 2-fold increased likelihood of childhood obesity at age 6 years among children who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages as infants.
  • An association between longer breastfeeding and increased consumption of water, fruit, and vegetables, and decreased consumption of fruit juice and sugar-sweetened beverages at age 6 years.
  • An association between frequency of fruit and vegetable intake during the first year of life and likelihood of continued frequency of fruit and vegetable intake at age 6 years.
 So, there is not a concern about generating food allergies in your child because you didn't breastfeed long enough or did food introductions wrong.  However,there are some strong benefits to your child's lifetime dietary habits by observing a longer period of breastfeeding, avoiding sugar, and introducing lots of fruits and vegetables early.

Naturewords for Your Health,
Dr. Mark