Breast Milk: Effects During Adulthood

Friday, June 01, 2012 Stef dela Cruz 0 Comments

Yes, breast milk has been touted as the best food for babies. But did you know that breast milk’s effects may continue up until adulthood? Early breast milk intake can actually help prevent many diseases later in life.

But before I share the many benefits of breast milk which are sustained up to later years, I would like to discuss a few advantages of breast milk over milk formulas.

Breast Milk Vs. Cow’s Milk

Breast milk is superior to cow’s milk – but how exactly is this the case? Below, a few advantages of breast milk are discussed. (Notice how all these points are backed by studies.)

  • Unlike cow’s milk, breast milk contains substances that protect the infant from infection. A baby’s immune system is immature and not fully capable of fending off disease; however, his mother’s pre-formed antibodies, together with other immune boosters, are passed on to him via breast milk. In a 1993 study by Armond Goldman published at The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, milk was found to have many substances, notably immunoglobulin A, lysozyme, and lactoferrin, that can protect an infant from infection. The less capable a baby is of producing these substances, the more these are secreted in his mother’s breast milk. Breast milk also contains actual white blood cells, called “soldiers of the body” as they serve to fight microorganisms.
  • Babies are especially equipped to absorb certain nutrients from human milk at higher rates. For instance, an infant has receptors that facilitate iron uptake specifically from breast milk, as mentioned in a 1996 article by Margit Hamosh published at Medscape General Medicine. In other words, a baby is more likely to absorb iron effectively from his mom’s breast milk than from milk formulas. Read on for more benefits of breast milk.
  • Breast milk contains enzymes that help an infant’s digestion. Because of these enzymes, a baby can better absorb iron and selenium. There are enzymes that also compensate for the newborn’s immature digestive tract. For instance, amylase – an enzyme that breaks down starches – is deficient in a baby until he reaches two years of age, according to a 1980 study by Emanuel Lebenthal published at Pediatrics. And breast milk is easier for babies to digest despite these deficient enzymes.
  • Fats found in human milk promote good vision and nervous system development. Human milk has a hight fat content. In addition, human breast milk contains fatty acids that a growing baby needs, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA). These fatty acids are important for vision and nervous system development, according to a study by Margit Hamosh published at the Journal of the American College of Nutrition last 1994.
  • Carbohydrates in breast milk protect the infant from stomach upset. According to the Handbook of Milk Composition published last 1995, human milk contains carbohydrates called oligosaccharides that bind to microorganisms. This keeps offending microbes from attaching to the mucosal surface of the infant’s gut. Therefore, the carbs found in human milk protect the baby from gastrointestinal infection.
  • Protein found in human milk offers special benefits. In contrast to cow’s milk, breast milk contains more casein, a protein that is easy for an infant to digest. Casein also improves mood and pain tolerance, as reported in the Textbook of Gastroenterology and Nutrition in Infancy published last 1989.

How Early Milk Intake Affects Later Health

Aside from superior nutrition, milk offers many other health benefits. Some of these benefits extend well beyond childhood into adulthood.

  • Milk consumption during infancy protects from specific diseases acquired during adulthood. Margit Hamosh mentioned in his 1996 article that human milk consumption in infancy helps prevent diabetes mellitus, certain types of cancer, and Chron’s disease (a type of inflammatory bowel disease) later in life.
  • Human breast milk consumption in infancy boosts IQ during early school years. Intellectual development at around 7 to 8 years of age seems to be affected by a person’s dietary intake in earlier years. A multi-center study done at the University of Cambridge last 1994 published at the Archives of Disease in Childhood revealed that infants fed with expressed human milk – even without the advantage of being breastfed – actually had higher intellectual quotients compared to those fed with infant formula.

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Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!