Nature's first functional food

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Science  15 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6198, pp. 747-749
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6198.747

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The study of mother's milk is booming, thanks to new analytical techniques, a growing interest in milk-microbiome connections, and the resurgence of breast-feeding. Building upon a century-old study that first indicated that milk nourished certain bacteria in infants, the new work has characterized the complexity of breast milk carbohydrates called oligosaccharides, or HMOs, that particularly nourish one species of beneficial bacteria. That microbe in turn encourages the growth of other beneficial bacteria and promotes a healthy gut immune system. These HMOs also protect the gut against pathogens, as do peptides released from breast milk proteins by enzymes also supplied in breast milk. Because the beneficial bacteria seems to help protect against infection that can be deadly in premature infants, researchers are busy developing prebiotics and probiotics to encourage the microbe's growth in these vulnerable babies.

  • * Trisha Gura is a science writer in Boston.

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