subject: immune system

Accounting for Lactase Mutants

Accounting for Lactase Mutants

Back in the 50s and 60s, work on lactose intolerance was often published under cringeworthy and blunt racial titles. A Nature article from 1969 sums it up with ‘Can Asians Digest Milk?’ It was also probably a subliminal non-accident that ‘lactose intolerance’—which is the typical condition for adult humans—became common parlance for a trait for which those with northern European ancestry are the real mutants. Many decades on, the genetic basis of the ability to digest lactose has been largely pinned down. As it turns out, there are different genetic reasons for the mutants’ lactose tolerance in the various populations that drink milk without intestinal incident, and the gene that confers mutant power in Europeans is only part of the story. That research history is discussed below, along with recent work that has extended the field’s reach beyond genetics. Investigations of the transcontinental basis of lactose tolerance are now providing insights into mankind’s cultural, as well as biological evolution. Read More...

Producing Human Milk Sugars for Use in Formula

Producing Human Milk Sugars for Use in Formula

It’s well known that human milk is good for you (1-5). Sugars, called oligosaccharides, form the third largest component of human milk and have been associated with many beneficial effects. These human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) have been shown to influence the composition of the gut microbiome, modulate the immune system, and help protect against pathogens (6-11, 22) Given the various benefits of HMOs, there has been a lot of interest in figuring out how to introduce HMOs into formula. However, more than 200 human milk oligosaccharides have been discovered so far, and their variety and complexity makes them challenging to synthesize (21-23). Read More...

Milk Sugars May Help Pre-term Babies Fight Fungal Infection

Milk Sugars May Help Pre-term Babies Fight Fungal Infection

The human body is a host for billions of microbes, including the very common fungus, Candida albicans. Harmless most of the time, these yeast cells may suddenly transform into many cells, chained together as long and branching filaments that invade body tissues. This has been reported in many vulnerable individuals, including pre-term babies. A recent study by Gonia et al. found that, in the laboratory, human milk oligosaccharides protect cells, similar to intestinal cells from pre-term babies, against infection with Candida albicans. Read More...

Probiotics May Work Better with Milk

Probiotics May Work Better with Milk

We respond differently to different environments; we might put on a thick coat when it’s cold, or open an umbrella when it’s raining. It turns out that probiotic bacteria also react differently depending on their environment, and this could have important implications for how we consume probiotics. Two new studies led by Maria Marco from the University of California, Davis, found that probiotic bacteria showed improved survival and efficacy when delivered through milk rather than in another medium. Read More...

Human Milk Sugars Can Protect Against Food Allergies in Mice

Human Milk Sugars Can Protect Against Food Allergies in Mice

Food allergies affect a substantial proportion of the population, and there are few treatments available. A new study finds that two sugars present in human milk can help protect against food allergies and reduce the severity of food allergy symptoms in mice. If the results can be replicated in humans, these milk sugars could potentially lead to new anti-allergy therapies. Read More...

The Regenerating Powers of Human Milk Molecules

The Regenerating Powers of Human Milk Molecules

What do breast milk, regenerating flatworms, and infected mice have in common? That might sound like a particularly cryptic riddle, but the answer may improve our understanding of the beneficial properties of breast milk and could potentially lead to new therapies for many diseases. In a new study, Charles Serhan and his team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital identified new chemical signals that help resolve bacterial infections and speed up tissue repair and regeneration [1]. They isolated these molecules from human breast milk, mice with self-limiting bacterial infections, and regenerating flatworms called planaria. Read More...

Infants Take Active Role in Passive Immunity

Infants Take Active Role in Passive Immunity

The transfer of immune components from a nursing mother to her offspring is called passive immunity. Calling this system passive, however, wrongly implies that antibodies, macrophages, and other anti-microbial factors in milk are simply along for the ride with the nutritional factors that transfer from the maternal blood stream. Numerous studies have demonstrated that maternal factors such as nutrition, stress, and illness influence the concentration of immunological constituents in milk (1-3). And now, a growing body of research, including a new study by Breakey et al. (4), indicates that passive immunity may be actively influenced by the health status of the breastfeeding infant (5-7). Can a sick infant actually increase the quantity of particular immune factors in their mother’s milk to help fight off infection? Read More...

Polyamines Promote a Healthy Gut Microflora

Polyamines Promote a Healthy Gut Microflora

The gastrointestial (GI) tract microbiota—important for establishing nutrient and energy balance, a healthy immune system and other physiological systems—is seeded during neonatal life. Mice fed formula with supplemental polyamines, GI tract bacterial growth factors present in milk, had microbiota that closely resembled that of breast-fed mice. Read More...

Prescriptions for Bovine Lactoferrin

Prescriptions for Bovine Lactoferrin

The anti-microbial milk protein lactoferrin appears to fight Crohn’s disease, necrotizing enterocolitis, diarrhea, cancer and osteoarthritis. As it also promotes bone growth it holds the promise of treating degenerative bone disease. This common protein may be just the prescription that the doctor orders. Read More...

Fermented Milk Prevents Tumor Growth in Mice

Fermented Milk Prevents Tumor Growth in Mice

A promising recent development for fighting cancer is the treatments based on activating the immune system of the patient to fight the disease. Investigators recently reported that laboratory mice fed fermented milk had slowed tumor growth due to modulation of the immune response and reduced inflammation. Read More...

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