Sugar in Breastmilk May Treat Illnesses and Diminish Premature Births

According to researchers, some naturally occurring sugars in breastmilk may help prevent infections before a baby is even born.

The research published in ACS Central Science on August 9 found that the sugars in breastmilk can halt a common prenatal infection in mouse and human tissues throughout pregnancy. In the future, this could help prevent problems or premature deliveries without extra antibiotics.

Both moms and newborns can benefit from breastfeeding in terms of health. A newborn receives the best nutrients from breast milk, stimulating growth and development and shielding the mother and child from several illnesses and disorders.

According to the CDC, breast milk is the healthiest food source for most newborns. It can lower the mother's chance of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breast and ovarian cancer, and other diseases.

"Breastfeeding provides unmatched health benefits for babies and mothers. It is the clinical gold standard for infant feeding and nutrition, with breast milk uniquely tailored to meet the health needs of a growing baby. We must do more to create supportive and safe environments for mothers who choose to breastfeed."

- Director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Ruth Petersen

How can the sugars in breast milk aid with potential infections?

One of the most widespread bacteria that might affect pregnancy is group B streptococcus (GBS). If GBS infections are not treated, they may result in adverse events, including preterm delivery or neonatal pneumonia. There are treatments; however, they mostly rely on antibiotics, which might result in the emergence of resistant strains.

But many substances in human breast milk already have inherent antibacterial properties, including human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). Steven Townsend, Jennifer Gaddy, and colleagues previously investigated the antibacterial properties of HMOs and discovered that they might prevent the development of GBS in vitro in particular reproductive cells.

However, first, scientists must demonstrate how the sugars function in various organs and in vivo before the molecules might be utilized to supplement already available antibiotics or constitute a new treatment option.

The team's next goal was to examine HMO activity in GBS infections in human tissues and pregnant mice. The scientists used both ex vivo fetal tissues and an organoid model of the vagina to investigate the protective effects of HMOs on human tissue infected with GBS.

The bacteria could not stick and establish colonies when they added a combination of HMOs intended to replicate the sugar content in breast milk. The HMO combination was next examined in GBS-infected pregnant mice.

Inflammation levels in the treated mice were around average, there were fewer germs in several reproductive organs, and no preterm births, membrane ruptures, or maternal deaths occurred.

These results demonstrate that HMOs can work as an antibiotic without additional drugs. Researchers believe using these carbohydrates to treat GBS infection might help women avoid adverse pregnancy outcomes.


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