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Humans Need 'Stronger' Breast-Milk Than Most Mammals

Mar 19, 2015 01:47 AM EDT
breast feeding baby

(Photo : Flickr: Harald Groven)

It's no secret that breast feeding is most likely the best option for a newborn. Many studies have drawn parallels between breastfeeding and greater infant health, a more robust gut microbiome,  and even improved intelligence. However, not every child is fortunate enough to have access to their mother's milk, and must be fed formula instead. That's why researchers are working to uncover just what makes human mothers' milk special, determining that its more nutritionally packed than most.

A study recently published in the Journal of Proteome Research details how human milk has a stunning 1,606 different protein types essential for newborn growth - a cocktail of many key nutrients that other mammals' milk does not boast. By comparison, the mother's milk of rhesus macaque monkeys - one of humanity's closest primitive relatives - boasts only 518 key proteins.

The hope is that with a better understanding of what makes human milk what it is, we can better replicate it for adequate baby formula.

"Human milk provides a recipe for human nutrition during the neonatal period," principal investigator Danielle Lemay, a nutritional biologist at the University of California, explained in a statement. "But because so much remains to be understood about milk's molecular composition, we developed a new technique for analyzing milk proteomics that overcomes earlier barriers."

Interestingly, Lemay and her colleagues found that even among the 88 proteins both human and macaque mothers' milk share, the great majority (~ 93%) of them were found in far higher concentrations in human breast-milk.

"The higher levels of these proteins in human milk are consistent with the well-established perspective that human babies, compared to other primate infants, are born at a slightly earlier stage of development and require higher levels of specific proteins that will nurture them as they mature," Lemay added.

This is not necessarily a sign of our superiority as a species, but it does indicate that thanks to humanity's access to many nutritional sources, we were able to commit more and more early developmental resources towards things like neurodevelopment.

And its proteins that appear to focus on that, Lemay argues, that future research should focus on getting into baby formula first.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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