Is breast milk so different from infant formula? The ability to track which genes are operating in an infant's intestine has allowed University of Illinois scientists to compare the early development of breast-fed and formula-fed babies. They say the difference is very real.
"For the first time, we can see that breast milk induces genetic pathways that are quite different from those in formula-fed infants. Although formula makers have tried to develop a product that's as much like breast milk as possible, hundreds of genes were expressed differently in the breast-fed and formula-fed groups," said Sharon Donovan, a U of I professor of nutrition.
Although both breast-fed and formula-fed babies gain weight and seem to develop similarly, scientists have known for a long time that breast milk contains immune-protective components that make a breast-fed infant's risk lower for all kinds of illnesses, she said.
"The intestinal tract of the newborn undergoes marked changes in response to feeding. And the response to human milk exceeds that of formula, suggesting that the bioactive components in breast milk are important in this response," she noted.
"What we haven't known is how breast milk protects the infant and particularly how it regulates the development of the intestine," she said.
Read the full report in Science Daily
R. S. Chapkin, et al. Noninvasive stool-based detection of infant gastrointestinal development using gene expression profiles from exfoliated epithelial cells. AJP: Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 2010; 298 (5): G58
First Published in May 2010
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