Recent research, published in the journal Allergy, may have found evidence that breastmilk could reduce food allergy risks in children. This isn’t to say that the study shows conclusively that there is absolutely a 100 percent chance that nursing your kiddo will decrease the likelihood that they’ll have allergies now or in the future. But it does offer some hope of helping children who are at risk for allergies if you choose to go the breastfeeding route.
So what exactly did this study show? Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the University of Manitoba analyzed breastmilk samples from 421 babies and their mamas. The participants were all part of a larger longitudinal study, the CHILD study, that followed 3,500 Canadian mother-child pairs from pregnancy on and up to the time that the children reached school age.
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The researchers looked at the composition of the mother’s breastmilk, taken at three to four months following childbirth, and the children’s sensitization to common allergens at 1-year. They found that the women who had beneficial human milk oligosaccharides had children who were less sensitive to the allergens at age one.
If you’re thinking, “Human milk oligo-what?”, here’s the deal. These sugar molecules (a.k.a. HMOs) are only in human breastmilk. While babies can’t actually digest them, HMOs work as a prebiotic, helping the development of beneficial intestinal microbiota. There are several factors that play into HMO composition, including lactation stage, mom’s health, gestational age, geographic location, mom’s ethnicity and whether the mother is breastfeeding only or not.
The results of this study don’t prove that breastmilk reduces allergies in children, but it does offer evidence that merits further research on the topic.
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