Increased age brings with it a greater risk of cognitive decline and disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The lack of effective treatments for these cognitive disorders has spurred the search for factors that can prevent or slow cognitive decline. One of the factors that has attracted a lot of interest is nutrition, and it turns out many of the things we eat or drink could play a role in preventing cognitive decline.
Delivering parcels around the world is a tough business. The company must deliver an individual parcel to the correct address, on time and without damage. A problem in any one of these areas results in a very unhappy customer. Ideally, the delivery of a therapeutic drug to a specific diseased tissue within a person has similar stringent requirements to the delivery of a parcel.
Modern dairy cows are as elite as Olympic athletes. They are champion milk producers and enable humans to turn fodder into dairy food with incredible efficiency. Underlying this performance is thousands of years of selection and improved management practices. Initially, the selection process was farmer driven and resulted in the development of many cattle breeds, but since the mid 20th century, when coordinated efforts by farmer groups and the dairy industry focused attention on the best methods to achieve improvements in production, the gain in efficiency through genetic selection has been remarkable.
There is nothing particularly surprising or complicated about the most common method of making stored milk safer than it would otherwise be. Holder Pasteurization, or HoP, aims to rid milk of potentially harmful germs by heating it to 62.5°C (145°F) for half an hour, and then cooling it back down to room temperature. This method is used by all of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) milk banks, and differs from the high-temperature, short-time (HTST) pasteurization used in the dairy industry. But these days HoP has some newfangled competitors—potential alternatives to the tried and tested method—suggesting that the time is ripe for a full evaluation of HoP’s performance. This article is the first in a series of five on the topic. Starting at the beginning of this in-depth look, how good is HoP at its core mission: keeping pathogens at bay that could, in theory, find their way into milk and make it their home?
Human milk often contains a higher concentration of medium-length sugar molecules called oligosaccharides (HMOs) than it does protein. That may seem a little odd, given that these sugars, which number well over 150 different types, are generally left undigested by the infants that consume them. Nonetheless, HMOs can confer impressive benefits on infant health. Some, for example, stop viruses finding a footing on intestinal cells. And more generally, the HMO profile of a mother’s milk appears to impact her infant’s metabolism, via changes in her offspring’s gut bacteria, as well as her infant’s lean and fat body mass. Scientists, however, know relatively little about what HMOs are normally produced by mothers in different parts of the world.
Dairy is deeply embedded in human history. It was exploited from pre-historic times as a source of food and likely emerged very soon after the domestication of ruminants. When and where it was used and its role in the birth and development of human societies is a very active area for scientific research. Was it part of a more complex mixed diet that developed with more complex social structures? Was it relied upon to sustain survival in pioneer human communities that ventured into new territory to avoid conflict, or simply to find suitable land for growing herds of domesticated animals? A study by Spiteri et al. analyzed new and existing data from across the northern Mediterranean to decipher the preference for dairy milk in communities that settled these regions between 7,000 and 9,000 years ago.
An expert panel that contributed to a 2009 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report entitled “How to Feed the World in 2050” calculated that world food production would need to increase 70% by 2050 to meet the challenge of feeding 9.7 billion people. For many of today’s agricultural scientists, this is a daunting, though some say achievable, number.
With age comes wisdom. That’s the good news. Age, unfortunately, also comes with less desirable traits, including bone loss. Soon after the human skeleton reaches its maximum bone mass, sometime between 20 and 30 years of age, the rate of bone breakdown begins to exceed the rate of bone formation. Although this physiological process is an inevitable part of aging, it can be slowed to avoid the development of osteoporosis, a bone disease currently affecting more than 10 million Americans over the age of 50.
Putrescine, spermine, and spermidine may not have the most appetizing names, but these amino-acid derived molecules (called polyamines) are ingredients of all mammal milks. The presence of polyamines in milk is not surprising—putrescine, spermine, and spermidine are manufactured by all mammalian body cells, including mammary tissue. But polyamines are not accidental milk ingredients, passed on simply because they are ubiquitous in mammalian cells. Research from human and non-human animal models demonstrates that optimal nutrient absorption, the composition of the intestinal microbiome, and even food allergy may all depend on a sufficient supply of polyamines during the neonatal period. Milk polyamines, although odd in name, are essential for the proper maturation of the gastrointestinal tract in humans and other mammals.
Eating dairy products positively influences brain function, with higher dairy intake associated with improved cognitive ability and short-term memory, and reduced cognitive decline and dementia. However, previous studies that looked at these associations could not rule out the effects of confounding factors such as genetics and family environment, which are also known to affect cognitive ability and food intake.