SPLASH! milk science update: March 2016

This month’s issue features de-stressing with dairy, more about prolactin’s complex role in the human body, and how lactoferrin can be used to treat infections and develop flu vaccines for infants.

De-stressing with Dairy

De-stressing with Dairy

When, a few years ago, researchers analyzed fecal samples from volunteer undergraduates at Swinburne University of Technology, in Victoria, Australia, they didn’t necessarily expect to find evidence of the students’ examination stress. Yet the fecal lactic acid levels—reflecting the amount of “good bacteria” of the genus Lactobacillus in the students’ guts—took a dive during the exam period. In other words, exam stress had caused the volunteers’ intestines to become more favorable environments to pathogenic organisms. As the exams went on, things only got worse: the researchers observed day-by-day reductions in the undergraduates’ fecal lactic acid levels. This couldn’t have been because exam-period diets were messing with the students’ health—the only significant dietary change was an increase in coffee consumption. Read More...

Prolactin: One Hormone, Many Effects

Prolactin: One Hormone, Many Effects

Hormones are the body’s bike messengers, carrying important information from the endocrine glands (e.g., thyroid, pituitary, ovaries) to tissues throughout the body. Whereas GPS helps bike messengers find their intended recipients, hormones know they have found their target tissue when they are able to bind to hormonal receptors attached to a cell’s surface. Like a key fitting into a lock, hormones only bind to their specific receptor. Turning the key and opening the receptor’s lock allows the hormone to deliver its message to the cell, which responds by taking a particular action. The lactation hormone prolactin (PRL) has more than one target tissue, with prolactin receptors (PRLR) found in mammary glands, intestines, kidneys, ovaries, and even the heart. Mammary gland cells respond to PRL’s signal by secreting milk and initiating lactation, whereas cells of the intestines respond by increasing their absorption of calcium. How does the same hormonal signal result in the delivery of such different messages? Read More...

Fighting Infections Using Lactoferrin Capsules

Fighting Infections Using Lactoferrin Capsules

The ability of lactoferrin to kill infections due to bacteria, fungi, and viruses in the first few months of life has long been recognized as one of the big benefits of breastfeeding for newborns. The antimicrobial prowess of lactoferrin is based on a tiny, six amino acid-long stretch of the protein called lactoferricin. Researchers have long tried to exploit this peptide as an effective antimicrobial agent. Successes have been achieved, but the search for even better strategies continues. Read More...

A Milk Protein Could Help Produce a Flu Vaccine for Newborns

A Milk Protein Could Help Produce a Flu Vaccine for Newborns

The flu virus can be deadly, particularly in the very young and the very old. Unfortunately, there is no flu vaccine available for use in infants under 6 months of age, and currently the best way to protect these babies is to vaccinate their parents and anyone else in close contact with them. Developing a safe and effective vaccine for use in very young infants could greatly help reduce their morbidity and mortality. Read More...