New research reveals why premature babies who are fed breast milk are healthier than babies fed formula.

Human breast milk has long been considered “liquid gold” among doctors who treat premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “Preterm infants” who are breastfed are healthier, on average, than those fed formula. But why this is true, has remained a mystery.

New research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute of Genomic Sciences (IGS) (UMSOM), which was published online in the journal mBio in June, finds that it’s not just the content of breast milk that makes the difference. It’s also how kids digest it.

The research, led by Bing Ma, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology at UMSOM and researcher at IGS, discovered a strain of Bifidobacterium breve, or B. breve, in the intestines of breastfed children who obtained greater amounts of breast milk than children. his peers. These preterm infants had better nutrient absorption because they had developed a healthy intestinal wall, one week after birth. Brave bacteria were less prevalent in both formula-fed infants and breast-fed infants with ‘leaky gut’. Babies with leaky gut don’t develop a barrier to protect bacteria and digested food from getting into the bloodstream. For the first time, the team also found that the way B. breve metabolizes breast milk keeps breastfed babies healthy and allows them to gain weight by strengthening the underdeveloped intestinal barrier.

An immature or “leaky” gut can lead to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which is the third leading cause of newborn death in the United States and worldwide. In fact, NEC affects up to 10 percent of premature babies with a devastating mortality rate of up to 50 percent.

Our finding could lead to promising clinical and feasible interventions to fortify the gut of babies, and thus increase survival rates for the most vulnerable premature babies.”

Dr.. Bing Ma, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Omiseum University

Bifidobacterium in the gut or microbiome has long been known to have health benefits. It includes a variety of strains that have very different characteristics. Some breeds are only found in adults; Some are mostly teens. One strain, Bifidobacterium infantis, was seen mostly in term infants.

The researchers followed 113 premature babies born between 24 and 32 weeks of gestation. This study found Bifidobacterium breve (B. breve) only in premature infants who had improved gut barrier function within one week after birth. Dr. Ma and her colleagues discovered that Bifidobacterium breve is genetically equipped to digest nutrients within its cell membrane rather than the typical external digestion process in which the bacteria secrete digestive enzymes onto nutrients to break them down.

At the most basic level, the gut microbiome in those breastfed babies with more brev metabolizes carbohydrates differently than formula. The researchers say they hypothesize that this metabolism strengthens and matures the gut barrier faster, protecting vulnerable newborns from disease.

“We now know that not only breast milk helps premature babies develop their intestinal barrier faster,” said Dr. Ma. “We will need to find the best way to give Breve prophylactically early in life, rather than relying on transmission from breast milk or even the mother’s gut or vaginal microorganisms during the delivery process. This is particularly critical in milk-fed premature babies. industrial.”

Dr. Ma said more studies are needed to determine whether B. breve bacteria originated in breast milk, the intestines, the mother’s vagina, or even the environment.

“This research could have a far-reaching impact on the global level,” said E. Albert Rees, MD, PhD, MBA, and executive vice president for medical affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore, John Z and Aikiko Powers Distinguished Professor, and Dean of UMSOM. Global. It could ultimately save thousands of premature babies from permanent disability or death associated with an immature, permeable gut that allows deadly bacteria to enter.”


Journal reference:

what, b, et al. (2022) The ability to metabolize highly specialized carbohydrates in Bifidobacterium strains associated with intestinal barrier maturation in early preterm infants. Mpio.

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