Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Does human milk protect against allergies?

CTV News Edmonton is one of many outlets
covering this important story - Google News
Really important research into the health of a baby's gut is being done in Canada - indeed, right here in my home town of Edmonton!

Faculty of Medicine researcher Anita Kozyrskyj and her colleagues have published a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the first of its kind in North America, showing common interventions at birth like c-section or the feeding of breast milk substitutes changes the nature of the bacteria in an infant's gut.

Confirming this is the first step to unlocking the puzzle of children's allergies.

The U of A's write-up on the article includes these comments from Kozyrskyj and post-doctoral student Meghan Azad:

“We want parents to realize that the decisions they make regarding C-sections and breastfeeding can affect the infants’ gut bacteria—and that can have potentially lifelong effects on their children.”  - Azad
"The initial step for us was to report on the changes to the gut bacteria based on interventiosn like C-section delivery or formula feeding. Our next step is to answer the question, 'Does this bacteria footprint make a difference in terms of child health?’ We will look for conditions like kids’ wheeze, allergies, and whether they were affected by gut bacteria changes associated with breastfeeding and C-section.” - Kozyrskyj 

Of note is the declaration of funding found in the full research paper:  "This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (grant nos. 85761 and 227312), and was supported by AllerGen NCE, the Killam Trusts and Alberta Innovates — Health Solutions."

Of course, many women do not choose c-section, and they do not choose to have their babies supplemented with infant formula - these are interventions some women feel are forced on them with little regard and often no discussion of possible negative health impacts. The c-section rate in Canada has risen to above 25 per cent in the last two decades - more than one in four babies are born by c-section now! And although upwards of 90 per cent of new mothers say they want to breastfeed, a recent McMaster study found only two-thirds of babies were still exclusively breastfed at discharge. Exclusive breastfeeding is being sabotaged before mom even leaves the hospital! It's no wonder fewer than one in four are still exclusively breastfeeding at six months.

We need more research like this, and we especially need more research that isn't tainted by corporate interests.

-- Jodine Chase
February, 2013

Link to full PDF in CMAJ