A New Surprising Link between Breastmilk and the Microbiome


This May researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center identified another potential benefit of breastfeeding your baby. Their study, published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that the hormones in human breast milk have an important role in promoting healthy bacteria in infants’ gastrointestinal tracks. This adds a new advantage to a long line of scientific findings of breastfeeding benefits for both babies and mothers. Bridget Young, one of the studies lead authors and assistant professor of Pediatric Nutrition at CU Anschutz said “This is the first study of its kind to suggest that hormones in human milk may play an important role in shaping a healthy infant microbiome.” But what is a microbiome, and why do gut bacteria matter?

You’ve probably heard about probiotics or “good bacteria,” as they’ve been in the news a lot recently. Scientists are very enthusiastic about studying how the different bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract (both the good and the bad) impact our health. This is a fairly new field of study, but given the number of bacterial cells living on a healthy adult human outnumber human cells by a whopping 10 to 1, it’s no wonder it matters which kinds we’re hosting. We call the collection of various microorganisms living on a human body its microbiome. Research shows that the type of microorganisms in our own microbiome matter, and that having a wide range of “good bacteria” is even more beneficial than just one or two types.

Early research has linked healthy and diverse gut microflora to:
improvements in all areas of digestive health
lower risk of obesity
lower risk of developing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes
lower risk of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
improvements in and lower risk of cardiovascular diseases
improved immune response, including lower risk of certain cancers
Adding the University of Colorado study’s findings to this links breastfeeding to these benefits, as we are giving our baby the best possible start on a healthy microbiome. The study found that breastfeeding was positively associated with greater microbial diversity and improvement in bacterial functions that help the intestine develop a barrier against toxins, limiting inflammation. Just one more reason breast is best!

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Lindsay Pasdera

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