Sugar in breast milk protects babies against deadly infection

Sugar in breast milk protects babies against deadly infection

Sugar in breast milk protects babies against deadly infection, according to a new study from Imperial College London.

The sugar, which is naturally found in some women’s breast milk helps protect from the potentially life-threatening bacterium called Group B streptococcus.

Every woman’s breast milk has a mixture of different types of nutrients and sugars called human milk oligosaccharides. These sugars feed the ‘good bacteria’ in the baby’s intestines.

The researchers studied a number of participants, and found that breast milk containing the sugar – lacto-n-difucohexaose I – was better at eliminating the Group B streptoccous bacteria when compared to breast milk without this sugar.

About half of the women on the planet are believed to produce this sugar within their breast milk.

Dr Nicholas Andreas, lead author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial said: “Although this is early-stage research it demonstrates the complexity of breast milk, and the benefits it may have for the baby. Increasingly, research is suggesting these breast milk sugars (human milk oligosaccharides) may protect against infections in the newborn, such as rotavirus and Group B streptococcus, as well as boosting a child’s “friendly” gut bacteria.”

Dr Andreas, who is a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for International Child Health at Imperial, also suggested that testing new mothers’ blood for the Lewis gene may be beneficial: “If we know whether a mother is colonised with Group B streptococcus and know if she carries an active copy of the Lewis gene, it may give us an indication of how likely she is to pass the bacteria on to her baby, and more personalised preventive measures could be applied.”

The study showing that a sugar in breast milk protects babies against deadly infection was published in the journal Clinical & Translational Immunology.

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1. “Breast Milk Sugar May Protect Babies against Deadly Infection.” Imperial College London. Imperial College London, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
2. “Role of Human Milk Oligosaccharides in Group B Streptococcus Colonisation.” Clinical & Translational Immunology. Nature Publishing Group, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

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