Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Previous research has linked being raised on breast milk to lower prevalence of obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease later in life and a newly published study indicated that this positive effect could be due to breast milk’s promotion of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the new study found that breastfeeding stimulates the development of helpful lactic acid bacteria in a newborn’s gut flora, which are advantageous to the growth of the child’s immune system.
“We have become increasingly aware of how crucially important a healthy gut microbial population is for a well-functioning immune system. Babies are born without bacteria in the gut, and so it is interesting to identify the influence dietary factors have on gut microbiota development in children’s first three years of life,” said study author Tine Rask Licht, research manager at the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark.
The study indicated that there are substantial transformations in the intestinal bacterial make-up from nine to 18 months after the end of breastfeeding. Additionally, a child’s gut flora continues to develop up through age three, as it becomes significantly more intricate and more fixed.
“The results help to support the assumption that the gut microbiota is not – as previously thought – stable from the moment a child is a year old. According to our study important changes continue to occur right up to the age of three,” Licht said. “This probably means that there is a ‘window’ during those early years, in which intestinal bacteria are more susceptible to external factors than what is seen in adults.”
“The results from the study can be used to support initiatives that can be used to help children develop a type of gut microbiota, which is beneficial for the immune system and for the digestive system,” she added. “This could for example be advice to mothers about breastfeeding or the development of new types of infant formula to promote the establishment of beneficial bacteria in the gut.”
Another study released in April highlighted the importance of breastfeeding by finding that not breastfeeding combined with low birth weight can result in developing chronic inflammation and affiliated health problems later in life.
“There were good reasons to hypothesize that breastfeeding was important to influencing levels of inflammation in adulthood,” said study author Thomas McDade, a biological anthropologist at Northwestern University. “It changes the microbiome. It promotes development of the immune system. Children who are breastfed get fewer infectious diseases and are less likely to become overweight.”
Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the previous study was based on health information from over 10,000 US adults, including their birth weight and the length of time they were breastfed as newborns. The study considered the role parenting might play in a child’s development by including the health of siblings raised by the same parents.
The researchers found that even inside the same family, birth weight and breastfeeding make a difference with respect to inflammation in adulthood.