About this Research Topic
Many studies have investigated the influence of breastfeeding on child health. It is well known that breastfeeding confers short-term benefits for child health by reducing mortality and morbidity from infectious diseases. A WHO report suggests a lower long-term morbidity from gastrointestinal and allergic diseases in infants who were exclusively breastfed for 6 months in comparison to non-breastfed children. Based on these data, UNICEF and WHO current recommendations are "every infant should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years or longer". While the evidence base for the protective effects of breast feeding on early infectious illnesses is strong this is not the case for many non-communicable diseases, where several systematic reviews have reached very different conclusions.
Human breast milk (BM) is the main source of nutrition for a newborn, and an important factor facilitating newborn adaption to the extra-uterine environment. The major constituents of the milk are proteins, fatty acids, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. It also provides bioactive factors influencing the infant’s immune maturation, physical and cognitive development and moderation of the gut microbiota. Infants’ immune ontogeny is influenced by maternal immunity via the placenta and breast milk. It is clear that nutritional influences are critical to both short and long-term health outcomes in the developing child, particularly during the first year of life.
By understanding BM composition and its determinants, we can identify new therapeutic or environment modifiable targets to influence metabolic and immune programming in early life in order to improve short and long-term health.
Today, there is no clear understanding of the pathways linking the intervention, its effect on BM composition and health outcomes.
This issue is aimed at clarifying this with the goal of proposing better strategies to improve health.
Topics covered in this issue will include:
- Environmental, maternal and genetic factors affecting breast milk composition
- Breast milk biologically active factors affecting health and disease including neurocognitive development, allergic, autoimmune, metabolic, cardiovascular and infectious disease
- Interventions to modify breast milk composition
- Breast milk biologically active factors mechanisms of action
Keywords: human milk, breast milk, allergy, allergic diseases, immunological outcomes
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