Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How mum’s milk protects newborn

NEW DELHI: The mysterious way in which Oligosaccharides, the major component of human breast milk, protects a newborn has finally been unravelled. A University of Illinois study shows that Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMO), which is found only in human milk, produces fatty acids that feed and help populate good bacteria in the gut of a newborn . This not only protects the newborn against harmful bacteria in the short term, but also strengthens the baby's immune system so that it can fend off chronic health problems like food allergies and asthma.

One litre of human breast milk contains 7-12 grams of HMO. Even though HMO (sugar molecules) is present in higher concentrations than protein in human milk, many of its actions in the baby were not well understood till now.

Scientists wanted to find out what formula-fed babies were missing. "We refer to HMO as the fiber of human milk because we don't have the enzymes to break down these compounds . They pass into the large intestine where the bacteria digest them. We were curious about the role they play in the development of the breast-fed infant's gut bacteria because the bacteria found in the guts of formula-fed infants is different," said Sharon Donovan, professor in nutrition and health.

With this study, which has been published in the Journal of Nutrition , Donovan has for the first time shown that HMO produce patterns of short-chain fatty acids that change as the infant gets older.

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