Human milk is known to provide a variety of nutrients that aid infants’ growth and development and are beneficial to their health. But as children grow a little older, they often don’t meet recommended dietary guidelines, particularly when it comes to eating enough fruits and vegetables.
New parents use baby books to record the dates of all of their child’s firsts—when they first eat solid foods, take their first steps, cut their first tooth, and say their first words. These books tell part of the child’s life story, allowing parents to reminisce years later about when all of these exciting milestones happened in the life of their child. Researchers that study the evolutionary history of humans are similarly interested in knowing the dates of these developmental milestones in order to recreate life stories for fossil skeletons (albeit for the less sentimental reason of comparing to living humans). Amazingly, teeth—even those from individuals that died hundreds of thousands of years ago—act much like doting parents, capturing every day of childhood as they grow.
Infectious diseases are not conquered, but sometimes that’s our perception. The infectious microbial agents patiently await the right opportunity occurring at the intersection of multiple circumstances. Their unpredictability is their modus operandi, which often amplifies their adverse impacts.
Native Americans are about twice as likely as white people in the United States to develop diabetes, and more likely to do so than any other ethnic group in the country. The reasons for this are complex, but post-reservation lifestyles and diets packed with processed sugar and saturated fats are big contributors. Given the extent of the problem, any research that identifies cheap interventions to which many people are likely to be amenable has the potential to reap substantial public health benefits. In a recent issue of the Journal of Nutrition, Kim Kummer of the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues report that encouraging the consumption of full-fat dairy products, such as full-fat milk and cheese, could be a useful tool in efforts to cut the disease burden.
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.