Can Stem Cells From Breast Milk Be Found In The Brain Of Babies?

 

BY ALEXANDRIA FISCHER, PHD CANDIDATE AT THE RENSSELAER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE, STUDYING SYNTHETIC MICROBIAL COMMUNITIES

The long list of things that we are told breastmilk can do seems to be never ending. The newest addition to the list is that stem cells in breast milk can travel from the gut to the brain of a breastfeeding infant. The linked news article says stem cells in breast milk have been seen in the brains of babies. They go on to say that breastfed babies are known to have higher IQs than formula fed babies, a fact that is decidedly false when studies control for socioeconomic factors. There is then an implication of some sort of mechanism between stem cells in the brain and an increased intelligence.

But upon closer examination of the evidence, stem cells haven’t been seen in the brains of human babies, but rather the brains of mice pups.

I have examined this study and described the methods as well as the strengths and weaknesses of it below. This study sought to track cells in breast milk from a mouse to pups that she is nursing. To do this they used mice that have and have not been tagged with a protein called GFP. GFP is a protein originally found in jelly fish, that glows green under certain conditions. In this study tagged mice fed untagged mice, allowing the researchers to look for glowing in the brains of the baby mice, to see if cells from breastmilk travelled from the guts to the brains. First the researchers looked at fluorescence or glowing in breastmilk of tagged and untagged mice. They did show that only the tagged milk glowed, however, they did not determine cell types in the milk, meaning we cannot make the determination that it is stem cells that they are tracking. The researchers then claim to have found the stem cells from breastmilk in the brains via glowing in brain tissue samples from mice pups fed from GFP tagged mice. However, this study lacked a control group where fluorescence was measured in untagged pups fed by untagged mother mice, meaning we have no baseline “glow” to compare results too. However, without a negative control (brain samples from an untagged pup fed by an untagged mother) we cannot make a determination about this data being artifacts of auto-fluorescence (background noise). This lack of a control is very concerning in light of the STAP cell fiasco, when major claims were made based on auto-fluorescence of stressed cells, rather than fluorescence due to changes applied by the researchers.
This paper is highly technical, but deeply flawed in the methods. They have failed to show adequate proof that a delicate stem cell can survive the acidic environment of the stomach and travel to the brain. However, even if we accept these unproven claims of breastmilk stem cells in the brain, long term data shows that the point is moot, as cognitive outcomes are equivalent in breastfed and formula fed infants.

Continue reading

Please follow and like us:
0

An Evaluation Of The Real Benefits And Risks Of Exclusive Breastfeeding.

by Alexandria Fischer, PhD candidate at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, studying synthetic microbial communities

It’s a mantra we have all heard, on repeat. “Breast is best.” But what does that really mean? Moms are bombarded by messages about the benefits of breastfeeding, such as increased intelligence, less illnesses, and a decreased risk of cancer. But what mothers are not told, is the quantifiable proof of these benefits.

The paper “Is the “breast is best” mantra an oversimplification?“, published in the Journal of Family Practice in July 2018, sought to critically evaluate claims of breastfeeding benefits in an effort to truly understand them. These authors note that the same data has produced a wide range of conclusions about the reported benefits of breastfeeding. They sought to tease apart what variables were truly impacted, and which were not. In this review the authors determined the number needed to treat (NNT) for a myriad of health issues that are often claimed to be reduced by breastfeeding. The NNT simply means how many babies need to be breastfed in order for one baby to benefit. We need to use caution when examining NNTs because they cannot make a causal determination, meaning they cannot be used to say “breastfeeding prevented this infection” they are simply used to determine a correlative relationship.

“The NNT (numbers needed to treat) simply means how many babies need to be breastfed in order for one baby to benefit.”

Continue reading

Please follow and like us:
0

Breast Milk Production in the First Month after Birth of Term Infants

by Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, M.D.

One of the most important duties of the medical profession is to make health recommendations to the public based on verifiable and solid evidence that their recommendations are safe and improve the health of nearly every patient, most especially if the recommendations apply to vulnerable newborns.  In order to do this, major health recommendations require extensive research regarding the safety of the real-life application of the recommendation at the minimum.

Multiple health organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 6 months as the ideal form of feeding for all babies under the belief that all but a rare mother can exclusively breastfeed during that time frame without underfeeding or causing fasting or starvation physiology in their baby. In order to suggest that exclusive breastfeeding is ideal for all, if not the majority of babies, one would expect the health organizations to have researched and confirmed that all but a rare mother in fact produce sufficient milk to meet the caloric and fluid requirements of the babies every single day of the 6 months without causing harmful fasting conditions or starvation. There have been few studies on the true daily production of breast milk in breastfeeding mothers.  Only two small studies quantified the daily production of exclusively breastfeeding mothers including a study published in 1984, which measured the milk production of 9 mothers, and one in 1988, which measured it in 12 mothers.  After extensive review of the scientific literature, it appears the evidence that it is rare for a mother to to not be able to produce enough breast milk to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months is no where to be found. In fact the scientific literature has found quite the opposite.

In November 2016, the largest quantitative study of breast milk production in the first 4 week after birth of term infants was published in the journal Nutrients by human milk scientists, Dr. Jacqueline Kent, Dr. Hazel Gardner and Dr. Donna Geddes from the University of Western Australia. They recruited a convenience sample of 116 breastfeeding mothers with and without breastfeeding problems who agreed to do 24 hour milk measurements through weighed and pumped feedings between days 6 and 28 after birth and were loaned accurate clinical-grade digital scales to measure their milk production at home. The participants test weighed their own infants before and after breastfeeding or supplementary feeds and recorded the amounts of breast milk expressed (1 mL = 1 gram). All breast milk transferred to the baby, all breast milk expressed and all supplementary volumes were recorded as well as the duration of each feed.

These were the results…

13 mothers perceived no breastfeeding problems while 103 mothers perceived breastfeeding problems.  The most common problem was insufficient milk supply (59 mothers) followed by pain (11 mothers),  and positioning/attachment (10 participants).  75 mothers with reported breastfeeding problems were supplementing with expressed breast milk and/or infant formula.

Of the mothers with reported breastfeeding problems, their average weighed feeding volumes were statistically lower than the mothers who did not report breastfeeding problems with an average feed volume of 30 mL vs. 63 mL in the mothers who reported no breastfeeding problems (p<0.001).  The daily total volume of breast milk they were able to transfer (or feed directly through breastfeeding) were also statistically lower than those who did not report breastfeeding problems. The moms without breastfeeding problems transferred an average of 693 mL/day while those that reported breastfeeding problems transferred an average of 399 mL/day (p<0.001).  The study defined 440 mL of breast milk a day as the minimum required to safely exclusively breastfeed. This is the amount of breast milk that, on average, would be just enough to meet the daily caloric requirement of a 3 kg newborn (at 70 Cal/dL and 100 Cal/kg/day). Babies of mothers with no reported breastfeeding problems were statistically fed more milk than those with breastfeeding problems, 699 mL vs. 567 mL per day (p = 0.007). All 13 mothers who perceived no breastfeeding problems produced and transferred more than the study’s 440 mL cut-off as the volume required to be able to exclusively breastfeed.  What this data shows is that a mother’s perception of breastfeeding problems is associated with actual insufficient volume of breast milk fed to her child.

Based on the 440 mL cut-off for “sufficient” breast milk production, some mothers who report their babies not getting enough in fact produced more than 440 mL.  However, since 440 mL is the amount of milk that is needed to meet the minimum caloric requirement of a 3 kg newborn, if the mother had a newborn weighing > 3 kg as they would expect to be past the first days of life if growing appropriately, many of the mothers reporting breastfeeding problems may be producing more than 440 mL but are still in fact producing less than the amount to keep their child satisfied and fed enough to grow.  A supply of 440 mL would actually be just enough milk to cause a 3 kg newborn to be diagnosed to fail to thrive at 1 month since they would not gain any weight if fed this volume of milk. Failure to thrive has known long-term consequences including lower IQ at 8 years of age.  So their conclusion that some mother’s perception of insufficient breast milk may in fact be inaccurate as a volume of 440 mL is in fact “not enough” for most newborns weighing > 3 kg.

Continue reading

Please follow and like us:
0