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article imageBreast or bottle, which is best for babies?

By Tim Sandle     Sep 8, 2014 in Health
Is breast milk or bottle milk best for babies? Or is there no difference? This is a reoccurring debate. A new study, using infant rhesus monkeys, argues that breast milk is best for a child’s developing immune system.
The study showed that infant rhesus monkeys who receive different diets early in life develop distinct immune systems. Furthermore, these differences continue into adulthood. The basis of the different immune systems is because different diets would promote different intestinal bacteria (the collective “microbiota”). In turn, these microorganisms shape the development of the immune system.
The study revealed that breast-fed macaques had more immune cells of the type that can best fight pathogens. Although previous research has highlighted the relationship between breast milk, microbiota and the developing immune system, this new study showed that these immune differences persist for a very long time.
Breast milk contains a diverse set of sugar molecules called human milk oligosaccharides. Studies suggest that the role of these sugars is not to feed infants. Instead, the sugars play the role of "microbial managers," acting as liaisons between the infant’s newly available intestinal gut space and a range of microorganisms.
The reason for using monkeys in the study is because macaques are born with virtually no immune cells and they must develop these during the first 18 months of life. Using infants with no starting immune cell populations allowed the scientists to track their development through the administration of both bottle and breast milk. To show this, the examined six breast- and six bottle-fed rhesus macaques from age five months to 12 months. At six months, they found significant differences in the two groups' bacterial populations.
Although the results are of interest, studies in animals do not necessarily translate into people. Anyone with concerns is advised to contact a qualified medical professional.
The study was conducted by scientists based tat UC Davis, the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) at UC Davis and UC San Francisco. The findings have been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The paper is titled “Breast-fed and bottle-fed infant rhesus macaques develop distinct gut microbiotas and immune systems”.
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