Babies born in resource-poor rural and semi-rural communities have a high risk of stunting, that is, being born short for their gestational age. Rates as high as 60% have been documented in one indigenous population in Guatemala. Stunting at birth predicts increased infant and child mortality as well as ongoing growth retardation. Growth retardation in turn carries a higher risk for impaired brain function and loss of economic productivity. In female infants, growth failure presents a greater reproductive risk for themselves and their eventual children due to intrauterine growth restriction. The issue is primarily a consequence of inadequate nutrition, and is considered to be a major public health challenge in developing nations. However, nutrition interventions carried out during the infant and toddler stages have had only limited success in either treating or preventing growth failure. Those aimed at maternal nutrition during pregnancy, primarily focusing on micronutrients, have produced positive, albeit modest, effects on newborn size. Interventions prior to conception have not been well studied in humans, but animal studies have shown promise.
A current trend in the marketing of healthy foods and drinks is highlighting a product’s short ingredient list; the less “stuff” in a food, the healthier it must be, right? This may be true for energy bars or fruit juices, but when it comes to human milk, a long list of ingredients is precisely what makes it optimal for infant health. Over the last decade, as the health food aisle has increased in so-called simple and clean foods, human milk’s ingredient list just keeps getting more complicated. Innovations in analytical tools have led to more in-depth studies detailing the specific types of fats, amino acids, sugars, and other metabolites present in human milk. Creating milk “–omes”—specifically, the milk metabolome, glycome, and lipidome—complicates human milk research in the best possible way, opening the door to identifying specific milk components that influence infant growth and development.
High-fructose corn syrup has a bad reputation. It is a common ingredient in all kinds of processed food, from cookies to bread and salad dressing, primarily because, unlike sucrose, it is predictably cheap over time. As with other sugars with a high glycemic index, its consumption is associated with an increased risk of metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes. For a long time, nutritional scientists have known about healthier sugars with the prerequisite sweetness to replace high-fructose corn syrup, however, the production costs of these alternatives have not been competitive. Now, thanks to the efforts of an international group of researchers, this may change. The group has genetically engineered yeast to turn lactose into tagatose—a sugar with about half the calories of table sugar, and that tastes like the real thing.
The fat component of milk is not sludgy and unstructured, as most people imagine. Rather, it is a complex mixture of different kinds of lipid molecules organized into membrane-bound bubbles called milk fat globules. Common fats, or triglycerols, occur in the middle of these globules. Fats that are known to have various regulatory functions, such as sphingolipids, phospholipids and glycolipids, are found in the surrounding membrane. Because these membranes have been found to have positive effects on human physiology beyond raw energy provision, scientists have gathered evidence that consuming milk fats—that is, whole globules, core and membrane combined—can be on-balance health promoting. Now researchers based mainly in Lyon, France, led by Marie-Caroline Michalski, have shown that when healthy mice consume butter serum, which is rich in milk fat globule membrane, on top of a high-fat diet, the mice gain less weight than when they ate a high-fat diet lacking this addition. Surprisingly, the high-butter serum diet also led the mice to gain less weight than when they consumed less energy in the form of a low-fat diet.
Next time you are running with the bulls in Pamplona you may have a moment of vivid, but very brief, clarity and think “If only the bulls were Polled.” In a significant breakthrough, scientists used genetic editing technology to produce hornless dairy cattle (Polled cattle) thereby potentially eliminating a controversial animal welfare issue, the physical dehorning of dairy cattle, while likely retaining their elite dairy production genetics.
Stress affects us in many ways, including well-studied impacts on cognit. “We know stress, in certain situations, can negatively impact some domains of cognitive performance,” says Dr. Neil Boyle from the University of Leeds.
Parents of infants spend a good deal of time wiping up their baby’s drool but probably don’t give a second thought to the important ingredients that drool may contain. Lucky for them, a team of researchers from Australia happily collected and analyzed baby saliva in an effort to identify compounds that may influence the growth of bacterial communities in the infant’s mouth and, subsequently, the rest of their gastrointestinal tract.
Demonstrating cause and effect can be a tricky business. In some areas of medicine, where double-blind prospective trials are commonplace, it is less of a challenge. By comparison, the field of public health, researchers often have to gather information as best they can—clues about human motivations, traces of behaviors, and diseases—and then do their best to identify the links. Scientists studying whether mothers who breastfeed have better long-term metabolic health than mothers who do not breastfeed have come up against these problems. Recent work has focused sharply on isolating the causal pattern, and has found that breastfeeding itself does not affect long-term maternal metabolic health.
The ability to digest lactose is essential for very young humans, for whom the sugar provides approximately one-third of their daily calories. But upon weaning and growing up, to varying extents, human bodies become less proficient at this task. For many people, the change is so evident that they are diagnosed as lactose intolerant, and, as a result, cut dairy completely out of their diets in an effort to avert unpleasant symptoms. Yet the medical consensus advises against this. Several strategies to manage the symptoms of lactose intolerance and malabsorption are instead proposed: careful dietary management, supplementing the missing lactase enzyme, and, most recently, consuming pre-biotics.
This is the million-dollar question when it comes to feeding those infants that are born the most vulnerable. Preterm infants are entirely dependent for their survival on the level of medical care offered to them. Amongst the important decisions to be made by health professionals as to how a baby born preterm will survive is how and what this baby will be fed. Currently, the standard practice in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is to feed preterm babies frozen mother’s own milk, pasteurized donor milk and/or formula, depending on what is available. However, a ground-breaking study by Sun and colleagues has now challenged this well-accepted but poorly researched dogma, showing that fresh mother’s own milk (non-refrigerated, non-frozen, completely unprocessed) is the most beneficial for the preterm baby, just as it is for the term baby.