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Breast is best—and now we know why

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We all know breast is best for giving a baby a healthy start in life—and now scientists are a little closer to understanding why.

It’s all to do with milk’s complement system, which is an immune-building component that protects babies from bacterial infection.

Although these discoveries have been made with laboratory mice, researchers say human milk also contains complement proteins that have similar health benefits.

The complement system helps shape an infant’s gut microbiota that make it less susceptible to bacterial infection, such as E coli that causes diarrhea.  This protection is especially important in the first few years of life, say researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In their experiments, the researchers discovered that removing complement proteins from milk changed the microbe populations in the guts of the mice and made them more vulnerable to bacterial infection.

The complement proteins kill ‘unfriendly’ gut bacteria, and this helps create a gut environment that is less susceptible to inflammation.

Earlier studies have shown that complement proteins in blood tend to work in partnership with antibodies in an immune response, but the new study suggests that the proteins in breast milk work independently.  

References
Cell, 2024; doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2023.12.019
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