Breast Milk, Child and Gut Microbes; more Reasons to Breastfeed

Did you know that a study worked out by three researchers at the University of California, Davis has discovered an important connection in the three-way relationship between mother, child and gut microbes?

They have found that a particular strain of bacterium found in baby’s gut possesses special genes that enable it to thrive on the indigestible components of breast milk.

This subspecies, commonly found in the faces of breastfed infants, coats the lining of the infant’s intestine, protecting it from harmful bacteria.

The substance that cannot be digested by baby (which constitutes 21% of the milk) is a slew of complex sugars derived from lactose, the principal component of breast milk.

The human genome does not contain the necessary genes to break down these complex sugars, but the microbial subspecies does. The complex sugars are also similar to those found on the surface of human cells. Many toxic bacteria and viruses bind to human cells by docking with the surface sugars. But their presence in the breast milk will make them bind to the sugars of the milk instead.

The researchers believe that mothers have evolved to let this substance flush through the infant, making it an astonishing product of evolution.

“Everything in milk costs the mother — she is literally dissolving her own tissues to make it… Mothers are (in this instance) recruiting another life-form to baby-sit their baby.”


The proteins found in breast milk also have special roles. One, called Alpha-lactalbumin, can attack tumour cells and those infected by viruses by restoring their lost ability to commit cell suicide.

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