IssueM Articles

Biochemical Evidence that Breastfeeding Reduces the Odds of Diabetes

What percentage of people with diabetes have yet to be diagnosed? In one advanced democracy with a good public health system—the United Kingdom—the figure is thought to be about 20%. Common sense suggests that in countries where healthcare is not free at the point of use, this percentage is probably higher. Because so many people who have diabetes do not know it, studies of diabetes that rely on self-reported cases always come with a sliver of doubt. This is why some newly published research by Erica P. Gunderson of Kaiser Permanente, and her colleagues, is important. It is the first long-term study—using biochemical diagnosis—to show that breastfeeding reduces the odds of a woman developing diabetes.

Milk Science Collaboration Leads the Way

During the last two decades, there has been a revolution in the way science is undertaken. The minor discoveries in the past, such as the earth revolving around the sun, E=mc2, the discovery of penicillin, and the gene basis to hereditary, were originally made by inspired individuals largely acting in isolation. They saw what no one else could see. The iconic public image of these scientists highlights their unkempt appearance and seeming disconnect with the immediate world mirroring a solitary mind languishing in abstract places. All that has now changed. Collaboration on the scale of the consortium now rules the scientific roost, as it accelerates the discovery process. At its heart, collaboration is the brewing pot for new ideas. Why is this important? New ideas lead to innovation, which is the fuel for large increases in industry productivity, the birth of new industries, and major societal advances. But how do you measure the success of collaboration?

What’s in the Dairy Case? Potential Health Risks of Emulsifiers from Plant-Based Milks

Thousands of years ago, soymilk was nothing more than bean-flavored water, and if a food couldn’t be pickled, cured, fermented, or dried, it could not be preserved. Thanks to emulsifiers—natural and synthetic substances used to improve food texture, make foods more uniform in consistency, or increase a food’s shelf life—modern-day humans can enjoy soymilk with a creamy consistency and baked goods that stay fresh for months in the pantry. But do these improvements come at a cost? Although emulsifiers such as carrageenan have been classified as “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA, a growing body of evidence suggests they may be partly responsible for increasing the incidence of inflammatory bowel diseases and the metabolic syndrome over the last 50 years. Although it may come as no surprise that processed foods are not good for overall health, many foods that consumers select because they are believed to be healthy, including some plant-based milk substitutes, contain ingredients that could potentially be making us sick.

The Magic of Milk in the Morning

Odds are, your mother told you “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” And, as is usually the case, your mother was right. Scientific studies continually support this folk wisdom—people that eat breakfast weigh less, are less likely to gain lost weight back, and have more stable blood sugar levels throughout the day compared with those who skip the first meal of the day. Not all breakfast foods offer these health benefits, however. Sorry bagels and donuts, but studies consistently show that protein-packed breakfast foods may make the biggest impact when it comes to jump-starting your metabolism and limiting spikes in blood sugar and overall daily food intake. But a new study shows that you may be able to have your breakfast carbohydrates and eat them too—as long as you eat them with milk.

Goat’s Milk: An Easily Digestible and Hypoallergenic Option

Goats were one of the first animals to be domesticated [1], and research into the health implications of consuming goat’s milk has been published in academic journals for more than a century [2]. Yet new findings appear all the time. In the past year, for example, computational approaches have been applied to the study of bioactive peptides that are released when we digest goat’s milk—and levels of various anti-inflammatory components in goat’s milk have been measured. Broadly speaking, goat’s milk main benefits are that it prompts fewer allergic responses than cow’s milk and is more easily digested and absorbed. For these reasons, its consumption is increasing in every populated continent.

Choline in Human Milk Plays a Crucial Role in Infant Memory

Choline is an important vitamin-like nutrient that was officially recognized as an essential nutrient in 1998. It is an important structural component of our cells, as it is part of molecules called phospholipids that are abundant in our cell membranes. It is also important for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is involved in memory and muscle control. Choline deficiency is thought to contribute to liver disease, atherosclerosis, and neurological disorders.

Cheese Fights Antibiotic Resistance in Urinary Tract Infections

The Ommoord district of the city of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, is known for its many residential towers. Among epidemiologists, it has a new notoriety. Between 2000 and 2016, researchers tested the urinary tract infections (UTIs) of Ommoord residents for resistance to a number of antibiotic drugs. The aim was to figure out why some people struggle with drug-resistant UTIs, but other people who catch UTIs get infected with bacteria that modern medicine has no trouble conquering. The Ommoord study has a simple conclusion. At least in the Netherlands, eating chicken and pork is associated with an increase in the odds of having drug-resistant UTIs, but eating cheese reduces this. Cheese, in this sense, appears to promote a urinary tract that can be more easily soothed.

Ironing Out Allergy to Cow’s Milk Protein

After hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and carrying the unrelenting burden of survival of the fittest, humans have increasingly become allergic to food. Who would have thought? It seems like the ultimate contradiction of our time. Heading the list of serial offenders are nuts, seafood, eggs, wheat, soy, and cow’s milk. About 8% of children and 5% of adults in Western countries are diagnosed with food allergies [8]. Scientists agree that the priming of allergic responses (sensitization) to some foods and the development of normal tolerance to foods generally occurs early in life [1,6,9]. Over the last two decades, the health authorities’ recommendations for when to introduce some of these foods to infants have radically changed as clinical investigators reveal new information that directly conflicts with past practices. One area of some confusion relates to the reason for the recommended late introduction of liquid cow’s milk to infants.

Large Study Finds Consuming Milk Cuts the Odds of Crohn’s Disease

For years it has not been clear how consuming dairy products affects one’s chances of developing the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. On the one hand, saturated fats are thought to contribute to the risk, and dairy products contain these. But on the other hand, various unique components of milk, yogurt and cheese, such as certain anti-inflammatory factors and, depending on the product, even particular bacteria, are thought to be protective. Now, by far the largest epidemiological study of dairy consumption and the development of these diseases has been published. It reports that people who consume milk are significantly less likely to develop Crohn’s disease than those who do not. The data for ulcerative colitis were less conclusive.

What’s in the Dairy Case? Oat, Pea, and Coconut Milks: Plants in Cows’ Clothing?

The plant-based milk substitute market has exploded over the last 10 years, quickly becoming a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. and around the globe. This growth has been fueled in part by consumers believing these milk substitutes are as nutritious as (or even more nutritious than) cow milk, a perception that is strongly influenced by the use of the word milk in the product name and their very placement next to cow milk in the dairy aisle. Add in claims on the packaging regarding calcium and vitamin D fortification, and it is not hard to see why people would think that anything cows can do, plants could do better.