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September 30, 2008 — Researchers are reporting
that new insights into the composition of human breast milk may lead to
new ways to prevent and treat stomach illnesses and other diseases in
babies and adults.
A new article notes that human breast milk is a complex fluid
composed of several key components, including lactose, a sugar that
provides energy for the infant, and lipids, which are thought to
provide healthy fats to infants. But scientists are just now beginning
to understand the composition and function of many of the components of
human breast milk.
Researchers have found, for example, that certain sugars in breast
milk could be developed into treatments that help fight necrotizing
enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially deadly disease that affects about 10
percent of premature infants. Some types of sugars in breast milk
appear to prevent bacterial infections, including those that cause
severe diarrhea, the article notes.
A better understanding of the chemistry and function of breast milk
can also lead to the design of more nutritious infant formulas and
cow's milk products, the article suggests. "[Breast milk] is a
remarkable fluid," remarked one researcher. "It's extremely
embarrassing how little we still know about it."
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