Life’s tough for very small premature babies. They face a daunting list of potential complications that could challenge their present and future health, and sometimes their survival. Their families dread hearing the foreboding medical word “complication.” Babies weighing less than 1.5 kg (3 lb 4 oz) are classified by the World Health Organization as very low-birth-weight (VLBW) babies. To put that into perspective, the average birth weight in the USA is 3.3 kg (7 lb 4 oz) with 95% of babies ranging between a petite 2.5 kg (5 lb 8 oz) and the king or queen of the nursery at 5 kg (11 lb). Amazingly, many VLBW babies overcome their early life challenges with help from intensive neonatal medical care and go on to face the more important challenges within a child’s life, like learning to swim and passing grammar tests at school. One factor contributing to the health of VLBW babies is the use of milk-based nutritional fortifiers. But which fortifier is best?
Fermentation is an age-old practice used to make foods last longer and easier to digest. About 40–80 pounds of fermented dairy products are consumed per person each year in Western countries, of which yogurt constitutes about 40%. Yogurt consumption is known to have several beneficial effects, including modulating the immune system, lowering circulating cholesterol, and improving many gastrointestinal conditions such as lactose intolerance, constipation, and inflammatory bowel disease [3-5]. However, the mechanisms underlying these beneficial effects are still unclear.
Often, studies that investigate a possible association between breastfeeding and the development of allergies find one, but not every time. For many researchers this would simply suggest random variation in the world. However, for Kozeta Miliku, of the University of Manitoba, Canada, and her colleagues, the variation has sparked a new avenue of research. They have discovered that instead of being random, the suite of mid-sized sugar molecules that are present in an individual mother’s milk contribute to the probability of her infant having food allergies at the age of one. Because the list and amount of these sugars varies from mother to mother, so does the extent to which human milk protects infants from developing allergies.
Humans domesticated soybeans over 10,000 years ago—roughly the same time that cattle were domesticated—so it should be no surprise that soy “milk” is the original plant-based milk alternative. The first soymilk, believed to have originated in China over 2,000 years ago, was a byproduct from the tofu-making process and was much more like bean-flavored water than the “milk” you find in grocery stores today. Thanks to thickening agents and emulsifiers (as well as many other technological advancements that remove components associated with the “beany” flavor), soymilk has become one of the most widely consumed plant-based milk alternatives in the U.S. and across the globe.
Ulcers can be a real pain in the gut, and they’re unfortunately quite common, affecting more than 10% of the world’s population. Drinking alcohol, smoking, stress, and microbial infections are all known to exacerbate these ulcers.
Surprises upturn accepted routines and demonstrate how little we really know. A new class of immune cell type, innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), was recently and unexpectedly discovered in fresh breast milk, and it promises to radically alter scientists’ understanding of how milk protects babies from infections, and possibly much more. The ground-breaking scientific paper  describing this discovery was recently published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association – Paediatrics by Babak Baban and three colleagues from Augusta University. The paper has the modest but revealing title “Presence and Profile of Innate Lymphoid Cells in Human Breast Milk.”
Probiotics are living microorganisms that improve health when they are administered in sufficient numbers. Often, administration means eating—in yogurt form or perhaps as a food supplement. Orally consumed probiotics can shift the composition of vaginal bacteria, making it harder for potentially pathogenic bacterial and yeast species to grow there. Probiotics have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. And it is these reports that encouraged a team of Scandinavian scientists to investigate whether consuming probiotic milk products during pregnancy cuts the probability of developing pre-eclampsia or having a spontaneous, pre-term birth. The results of their study are promising, not least because probiotic milk products are cheap and widely available. The next step will be to further investigate the mechanistic details of the effects.
Juliet Capulet famously asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet was able to look past “Montague” and love Romeo in spite of his surname. But when it comes to food and nutrition, names matter. Case in point—plant-based “milks.” Their placement in grocery stores in the dairy case and the use of “milk” on their packaging can give the false impression that they are nutritionally equivalent to cow milk. Although plant-based milk alternatives offer many nutritional benefits and are produced to have the same texture and appearance as milk, they are not a suitable nutritional substitute for cow milk, particularly for children and adolescents.
Sheep milk is not a regular feature on supermarket shelves, except in the form of cheese. In fact, many well-known cheeses—Feta, Manchego, and Roquefort among them—are made of sheep’s milk, often unbeknownst to consumers. It is the particular composition of sheep’s milk that makes it so good for cheese making. In short, sheep’s milk is very high in solids, containing quite a bit of fat and almost double the protein content of goat’s milk and cow’s milk. But the process of making cheese leaves a lot of waste. And, according to recent studies, this leftover liquid (or whey) could find a use in the creation of novel products containing bioactive peptides. The bioactive peptides from sheep’s milk whey are of interest because they are unusually good at lowering blood pressure.
If human milk had a nutrition label, the concentration of one vitamin would really stand out. Human milk is quite low in vitamin D—lower, in fact, than the amount an infant actually needs for optimal growth and development. The discrepancy between the needs of the infant for this vitamin and its low content in milk can be reconciled, however, using an evolutionary perspective; human infants relied on ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation rather than diet to meet their vitamin D requirements. This explanation applies to populations that lived near the equator, who had ample UV radiation access throughout the year, as well as those that lived at higher latitudes with reduced UVB access. Indeed, the reliance on UVB for vitamin D synthesis was so vital that humans living at high latitudes evolved lighter skin pigmentation to increase their body’s ability to absorb UVB light.