The review from researchers at the University of Zurich outlined a comprehensive list of benefits of breast milk.
Citing research from the last 50 years, the researchers not only acknowledged the known benefits but also identified the structural richness of breast milk.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding of babies for the first six months of life afterwhich breast milk can be used as a complement to solid food for at least another year.
In the past the effects of milk components on infant physiology have been difficult to define. However, the team believe the roles of some breast milk components were only now beginning to be dissected.
Breast milk benefits
While breast milk decreased infantile mortality and reduced gastrointestinal and airway infections, mechanisms to explain this were still unclear.
Breast milk was found to not only contribute nutrients, immunoglobulins, antimicrobial proteins, complex oligosaccharides, hormones, but also xenobiotics to the infant.
The review also found some of the protective factors provided by breast milk exerted significant influence in the infant gut, such as the mucosal immune system and the intestinal microbiota.
Breast milk is often described as the gold standard of infant nutrition, because breast milk provides all the macronutrients and vitamins required for the development of the suckling infant.
Recent studies underline the beneficial effects of breastfeeding on short-term child health by decreasing infant mortality and morbidity, and on long-term development by reducing the risk for obesity.
Other studies have gone even further, identifying the rich source of bioactive factors, including immunoglobulins,cytokines,antimicrobial proteins,hormones, and oligosaccharides, that breast milk provides.
Source: Trends in Biochemical Sciences
Published online ahead of print, doi.org/10.1016/j.tibs.2016.02.008
“Review: Breastfed at Tiffany's”
Authors: Thierry Hennet, Lubor Borsig