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New research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found over 700 species of beneficial microbes in human breast milk. (1) Perhaps this isn’t so surprising, since the infant gut is actually sterile – containing no good microbes – at birth. These 700 different microbes foster the microbial diversity that supports the immunity and proper brain development, as well as doing the heavy lifting for most of the body’s needs. As you might expect, the microbes in immune-boosting colostrum (the first secretion from the breasts after childbirth, before the breast milk comes in) were a of significantly different species than those contained in the breast milk measured six months after giving birth.
Key Factors Can Affect Microbial Diversity in Breast Milk
- Interestingly, women who had gained more weight than desired throughout their pregnancy, or were already overweight, showed less microbial diversity in their breast milk.
- What was even more interesting was that women who had a planned C-section showed less microbial diversity than those with vaginal deliveries.
- Women who had emergency C-sections, however, showed similar microbial diversity in their breast milk to women who had given birth vaginally.
This suggests that the hormones involved in labor, such as oxytocin, may have something to do with the microbiology of breast milk. Researchers also believe that these breast milk microbes may be involved in allergy prevention, and they may soon be required ingredients in infant formulas.
What are HMOs?
Breast milk is also loaded with over 130 human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) which are a kind of resistant starch (RS), meaning that they are not broken down by the enzymes in the esophagus, stomach or small intestine. Instead, they remain intact until they reach the large intestine, where they feed the good bacteria that live in the colon. HMOs have been shown to have prebiotic effects, promoting the growth of Bifidobacterium bifidum, as well as other beneficial microbes. (2) Some interesting news is that goat’s milk is loaded with HMO-like oligosaccharides, while cow’s milk only has trace amounts.
What is also cool about HMOs is that bad, virulent and pathogenic bacteria actually adhere to the HMOs rather than the wall of the infant’s intestines. This allows the infant time to ramp-up their quantity of diverse immune and brain-boosting microbes. (2)
For those of us who were not breastfed, all is not lost. Most Americans have lost all those good microbes anyway from years of antibiotics, pesticides, additives and sterile everything. Bottom line is that we all need to make efforts to restore intestinal and digestive health, so that we can effectively repopulate our guts with those good microbes.
This is best done with colonizing, not transient, probiotics (see research on Gut Revival, Flora Restore and Flora Restore MAX) and a clean diet of whole, non-processed, plant-based foods.