Breast milk has been found to improve babies’ “gene expression” helping to explain how it can protect against illness and aid the development of the digestive system.
Gene expression is when genes are “turned on” and begin to create their gene products – usually proteins. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that breast milk and formula had different effects on at least 146 genes.
“Genes are really sensitive to nutrition. And we now have genes that may explain many of the clinical observations of how breastfed and formula fed infants differ,” lead researcher Sharon Donovan told LifeScience.
“What we haven’t known is how breast milk protects the infant and in particular how it regulates the development of the intestine,” she said, adding that this could help develop formula milk that emulates the real thing more closely.
Some of the genes aided by breast milk protect against ‘leaky gut’ disorder where foreign particles enter the bloodstream through the intestinal wall. This can increase the risk of allergies, and inflammatory diseases such as asthma and Crohn’s disease.