Breast Milk Protects from Bacteria

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  The ability of breast milk to protect babies from bacteria is long proven.  According to statistics,  breastfed children are half as likely to suffer from diarrhea than children fed formulas.
Partly, the explanation for this phenomenon was described in the 50s by Swedish immunologist Lars Hanson from Geterberg University. He found that breast milk contains antibodies, synthesized by mother’s body that protect the baby from disease-causing agents which the mother happened to acquire during her life.

However, the presence of antibodies in breast milk does not explain all observations made by the scientists. For example, the micro-flora of breastfed infants is significantly different from the micro-flora of children on formula. There are more beneficial  microorganisms, such as acidophilic bacteria and bifidobacteria, in the gastrointestinal tract of breastfed babies which promote healthy digestion and at the same time less representatives of Escherichia coli and other dangerous strains.

The analysis of breast milk has also shown that the third major component, forming about 1% of the total volume, is a large variety of oligosaccharides (HMOs), many of which can only be found in human milk.  They have the potential to modulate the gut flora and to influence inflammatory processes and affect different gastrointestinal activities. However, initially it was believed that oligosaccharides are a by-product of the synthesis of milk. This belief didn’t make sense because it would seem a waste of precious resources. 

The mystery was solved by scientists of the Massachusetts Hospital under the direction of David Newburg, who have created genetically modified mice to produce oligosaccharides in their milk.  Then, the bacteria that causes diarrhea was given to baby mice. The result – it has not led to the development of the disease.

Oligosaccharides are able to protect infants from even pathogens against which their mothers are not immune.

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