Duke study pinpoints breast milk benefit

It’s widely known that human milk makes for healthier infants than formula, but not all of the reasons are clear.

Duke University Medical Center researchers may have just found one: Human milk promotes the growth of “biofilms” of beneficial bacteria that line the intestinal tract of healthy babies, helping digestion and the development of the immune system and acting as a barrier to bad germs.

The study, which appears in this month’s edition of the journal Current Nutrition & Food Science, is the first the researchers know of that looks at the effects of infant nutrition on the way these bacteria grow, said William Parker, an associate professor of surgery at Duke and senior author of the study.

Among other implications, it could be a step toward engineering healthier formula for babies who can’t get human milk, said Parker.

The research team grew key types of bacteria in four types of samples: cow’s milk, breast milk, several brands of milk- and soy-based infant formula, and an antibody found in human milk known to help establish an infant’s immune system.

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