It may come as a surprise but breast milk not only contains fats, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins but also various other elements which cannot be replicated. Some of these elements include white blood cells and immunoglobulin A that help in providing immunity, more than 200 oligosaccharides that act as prebiotics and various hormones such as leptin, adiponectin, IGF-I, ghrelin, obestatin and resistin necessary for the growth and development of a baby.
It is already an established fact that breast milk helps in improving the immune system of the newborn but the reason behind this was unknown until the scientists from the University of Bonn found that a protein in breast milk can protect the baby from various intestinal disorders.
Why is breast milk nutritious?
Breast milk contains different nutrients in different stages. The colostrum, which is the first milk produced by the mother, is rich in IgA, lactoferrin, leukocytes and other growth factors which are required by the newborn to improve their immunity and for development. Then, after five days to two weeks postpartum, the breastmilk gets converted into transitional, which contains 0.8"1.0 grams of protein per 100 ml of milk.
Four to six weeks after delivery, the milk matures and comprises of foremilk and hindmilk. Foremilk is the milk which comes first in each feeding session and is rich in lactose. Hindmilk comes after foremilk, is creamier and has a high content of fat which is required by the baby's body.
The presence of alarmins in newborns
In recent research, published in the journal Gastroenterology, scientists from the RESIST Cluster of Excellence at Hannover Medical School (MHH) found that after birth, the intestinal flora and mucosa mature by having interactions with the bacteria in the environment. This encounter helps in developing intestinal immunity by giving rise to bacterial diversity, thus protecting against many diseases.
The scientists found that newborns can fight against bacteria with the help of alarmins. Alarmins are the peptides and proteins which are received from breast milk and are found in the child's intestinal tract.
In this study, scientists collected stool samples from 72 babies who were born after full-term and 49 pre-term infants. The samples were collected at different time periods over the first year of life which was at Days 1, 3, 10, 30, 90, 180 and 360. The doctors measured the levels of two types of alarmins, S100A8 and S100A9, in those samples with the help of ELISA, while the faecal microorganisms are examined with the help of gene sequencing.
The results of the study showed that alarmins were produced more in vaginally-born infants and less in those who were born via planned C-section. Similarly, premature infants were less capable of producing alarmins themselves as compared to full-term infants. This made these babies more prone to suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases.
The beneficial effect of alarmins
The scientists then conducted a study on newborn mice who lack S100A8. They divided the mice into two groups; one group was either fed orally or were intraperitoneally (through walls of the abdomen) injected with S100A8 while the other group was only given subcutaneous injections of Staphylococcus aureus (infection-causing bacteria). The scientists then collected samples from the blood, intestine, peritoneum and celiac lymph nodes of the mice.
The results of the study showed that mice who were fed S100A8 showed protection against the bacterial colonies and other associated diseases.
The result of the study showed that both S100A8 and S100A9 help in regulating the development of the microorganisms present in the intestinal microbiota and also improve the immune system in neonates.
The scientists concluded that supplementations made by using these proteins can help in the development of newborns who either do not produce enough alarmins or get enough alarmins in the breast milk. By providing alarmins to these babies, it would be possible to prevent various intestinal-bacteria related long-term conditions such as chronic intestinal inflammation and even obesity.
For more information, read our article on Alarmins in breast milk.
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