The World Food Programme records that every year about 3.1 million children below the age of 5 lose their lives to lack of nutrition. Additionally, every 6th infant is underweight and nearly 25% of children experience stunted growth, causing risks such as cognitive impairment, immune system disorders, and death. Know in which way breast milk benefits for infants?
How Breastmilk and Gut Bacteria affect Infants Health?
According to a recent study published in Cell, the gut microflora may play a pivotal role in the development and growth of children. A group of researchers led by Jeffrey L Gordon, ( Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis), have seen that certain carbohydrates i.e., oligosaccharides inherent to the breast milk can act as catalysts by stimulating the activity of various microbes which are linked with growth and development.
To understand this, they conducted a study based in Malawi, an African country, where every 2nd child is observed to have stunted growth. They observed the samples of the breast milk from the mothers of the two test groups comprising of six-month-old babies. One of the groups comprised of healthy babies and the latter of those who showed stunted growth. The researchers were interested in finding out the fate of the oligosaccharides, which happen to be naturally indigestible by the humans and are broken down by the gut microbiota.
The following were the 2 types of oligosaccharides they observed– sialylated (primary role in brain development) and fucosylated –which on comparison were somehow found in more abundance in the breast milk of those women who had healthy children than in the breast milk of those whose babies showed signs of stunted growth. Thus, through this study, the authors conclude that breast milk sugars may possibly enhance healthy growth in infants.
To study the viability of this result they infused a bacterial puddle from fecal samples of the undernourished kids into sterile mice. They then observed that only 19 from a total of 25 bacterial strains transferred were successfully able to colonize the gut. Subsequently, two groups of mice comprising of the germ-free group and the group that had been infused with bacteria were given two different diets for a period of five weeks.
The first group was fed similar food like the Malawian children (basically comprising of corn, legumes, vegetables, and fruit), which is somehow not ample for adequate growth. The second group was given the same diet but fortified with sialylated oligosaccharides from cow’s milk (the content of these sugars in cow’s milk is 20m times less than in human milk).
Post the test time period it was seen that the latter group of mice had gained more weight as well as muscle mass, there was also an increase in the bone density and enhancement in the metabolic changes experienced in the liver and the brain. That can only mean to suggest that the gut microflora may actually have an important role to play in enhancing the effect that the oligosaccharides have on healthy infant growth.
Findings have also shown that breastfeeding may be a promoter of an enhanced gut ecosystem for the essential microbes leading to healthy growth in babies. A possible explanation for this might be that through the bacteria process those sugars break down to produce molecular building blocks which enhance the body’s growth and development.
Though this research cannot be deemed as the ultimate, yet it lays the foundation to categories of the components present in breast milk which are required for a child’s growth and as to how exactly do they interact with the intestinal microflora and other constituents of the diet. It could also lead to the production of improved infant formulas and also therapeutic food which can be used to treat malnutrition.