University of Queensland researchers have found that a genetic variation affecting the composition of a mother’s breast milk could have a lasting impact on the gut health of her child.
UQ Child Health Research Centre’s Paula Smith-Brown said children aged two to three had lower levels of ‘good’ intestinal bacteria if their mother’s secretor gene was inactive.
“The gene plays an important role in the production of human milk oligosaccharides, or HMOs” Ms Smith-Brown said.
“HMOs can’t be digested by infants but are the third largest component of breast milk – they are only there to feed the child’s developing gut bacteria.
“If a woman’s secretor gene is switched off she is considered a non-secretor, which means she can’t produce certain important HMOs.
“Our study has shown that if a mother’s secretor gene is turned off, there is a lasting impact on Bifidobacteria levels in her child’s microbiota, extending well after breast-feeding has ended.”
Ms Smith-Brown, an Accredited Practising Dietician, said it was now accepted that gut microbiota was important to health, but researchers were still discovering what factors made it robust and which made it less healthy.
“We know the microbiota is established in the first few years of life, and once it is established it is relatively resilient,” she said.
“If we can get it right at the start we can help someone on the way to having long-term health benefits.”
The study at the Children’s Nutrition Research Centre looked at Bifidobacteria in children who had been exclusively breastfed for at least four months.
Ms Smith-Brown said further research was needed but it might eventually be feasible for non-secretors to take a supplement during breast-feeding.
“It is relatively easy to test if someone has a secretor gene that is turned on or off, and it could become part of routine care in pregnancy.
“This could make a significant difference as about 20 per cent of the population are non-secretors.”
Ms Smith-Brown said that even for non-secretors, breast-feeding was considered the optimal source of nutrition in early life.
“Babies who are formula-fed won’t get these special HMOs and they are also not getting lots of other beneficial components in breast milk.”
The research is published in Plos One.
Breast milk calcium mystery revealed: researchers
Breakthrough research at the University of Queensland has unlocked a mysterious process essential to breastfeeding.
School of Pharmacy trio Dr Felicity Davis, Professor Gregory Monteith and Professor Sarah Roberts-Thomson have combined to explain how calcium is transferred into mother’s milk.
The discovery could have implications for cancer treatment.
"Using rodent models, we have demonstrated that at least 50 per cent of calcium ions in a mother’s milk comes from one specific protein called Orai1,” Dr Davis said.
"There’s also an unanticipated revelation that Orai1 is a master regulator of milk ejection and pivotal to the survival of mammalian young.
"Inadvertently, a better understanding of mammary gland biology and lactation will help us identify processes that may be important in some breast cancers.”
The study, which involved researchers in North Carolina and New York, is published as the Essential role of Orai1 store-operated calcium channels in lactation in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
Dr Davis, now a UQ National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career Research Fellow, spent two years based the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina.
She is now based at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, working in mammary gland biology, stem cells and breast cancer.
Dr Davis will return to UQ Pharmacy in 2016 to complete her postdoctoral research fellowship.
Breast milk transfers good microbes to babies
Babies get microbes from mother's milk that makes them "more ready" to digest solid food later in life, says a new study.
Babies who miss out on breast feed are more likely to develop stomach aches and colic.
The team found that a baby's diet during the first few months has a tremendous impact on the composition, diversity and stability of the gut microbiome.
"We found that babies who are fed only breast milk have microbial communities that seem more ready for the introduction of solid foods," said Andrea Azcarate-Peril from the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study.
For this study, the team collected stool samples and information about the diets and health of nine babies as they grew from two weeks to 14 months.
Applying genomic sequencing techniques to the stool samples, they deduced the types and functions of the bacteria in the babies' gut microbiomes.
The analysis revealed that during the first few months of life, there were clear differences between the microbiomes of babies that were exclusively breastfed as compared to those fed both formula and breast milk, Daily Mail reported.
"This study provides yet more support for recommendations by the World Health Organisation and others to breastfeed exclusively during the first six months of life," added lead author Amanda Thompson.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.