Breast Milk Beats FormulaAgain

Healthnotes Newswire (June 8, 2006)—Another study has found reason for moms to breast-feed rather than rely on formula, when possible. According to research published in the journal Nutrition, formula doesn’t have the antioxidant power of breast milk. Without strong antioxidant protection, infants are more susceptible to diseases, including certain life-threatening infections.

“This is the first study to compare the long-term effects of breast and formula feedings on infants’ antioxidant capacity and oxidative stress,” said Ali Aycicek, MD, a pediatrician and lead author of the study.

Researchers compared the influences of breast milk and formula on oxidation in the blood in 54 infants who were three to six months old. The infants had been exclusively breast-fed or exclusively formula-fed since birth. The total antioxidant capacity of the blood was significantly lower in the formula-fed group than in the breast-fed group. They also found that oxidative stress—a measure of cell, tissue, or organ damage caused by reactive oxygen-containing molecules—was significantly higher in the formula-fed infants.

Breast-feeding rates declined significantly in the 1920s, when evaporated cow’s milk and infant formula became widely available. These were promoted as being more convenient for mothers and more nutritious than human milk, a claim that turned out to be false. In the 1960s, although breast-feeding rates began to rise again, the formula industry derided breast-feeding as a throwback for “modern” women with an emerging sense of power and autonomy. Over the intervening decades, however, the advantages of breast-feeding over formula have been increasingly validated. Breast milk contains a perfect balance of nutrients, enzymes, and immune supportive ingredients for babies. It provides easily digestible protein and absorbable forms of minerals, such as iron and zinc. Immune-supportive components of breast milk include immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, white blood cells, and the beneficial probiotic Bifidobacterium bifidum.

Breast-feeding prevents many illnesses that affect infants and children, particularly infections such as infectious diarrhea, ear infections, respiratory tract infections, meningitis, urinary tract infections, and botulism. Breast-feeding may also help prevent some cancers, diabetes, allergies, inflammatory bowel diseases, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Mothers also benefit from breast-feeding. There is no preparation required for a meal, it is always available, and it costs less. Breast-feeding also promotes a bond between mother and infant.

And now breast milk appears to be a superior antioxidant as well.

“Breast milk is the optimal food for human infants,” said Lyla Wolfenstein, an international board certified lactation consultant in private practice in Portland, Oregon. “But the take-home message is not that breast milk has more antioxidant power than formula, as the study emphasizes. Breast milk is the standard. What this research reveals is that formula-fed babies have reduced antioxidant protection compared to breast-fed babies.”

(Nutrition 2006;22:616–9)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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