Breastfed Babies Get All the Good Germs

Infants have more diverse gut bacteria which strengthens their immune systems

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Want to hear another reason breastfeeding is more beneficial for a baby than formula-feeding? Apparently, breastfed babies get more of the good germs partying in their tummies.

A recent study found that the bacteria that grows in the guts of breastfed babies and formula-fed babies is significantly more diverse and may play a part in beefing up breastfed babies' ability to fight bad germs.

"Breastfeeding beefs up your baby's immune system."

Robert Chapkin, a nutrition professor at the Center for Environmental and Rural Health at Texas A&M University, and colleagues wanted to study how the microbes in a baby's gut might influence the baby's health and well-being.

Researchers have been learning more and more recently about the major role that microbes and their diversity play in the way human bodies function.

Because microbe communities can affect a baby's digestive system and immune system development, finding out factors that influence the makeup of these communities can guide researchers in offering recommendations to moms.

But there's still a pretty big question mark when it comes to the intersection of these gut germ neighborhoods, a baby's diet and how the baby's health is affected at the molecular level.

Fortunately, about one sixth of the cells lining a human intestine - the grunts that first confront food and possible disease - depart the body in feces.

This glimpse into the microbe makeup of a baby's insides allowed the authors to analyze the intestines of 12 three-month old babies - half breastfed and half formula-fed - then compare these analyses to the germ communities found in the DNA in the babies' stools.

Turns out, breastfed babies have a more diverse range of germs in their gut than the formula-fed infants did - but that meant the breastfed babies' immune systems had also developed to deal with this greater range of microbes.

According to Chapkin, the bacteria found in breast-fed infants do contain more "bad" genes, such as ones that may resist the effects of antibiotics or include toxic compounds. But the larger number of bad dudes also meant a stronger immune system that can likely fight disease better.

"Our findings suggest that human milk promotes the beneficial crosstalk between the immune system and microbe population in the gut, and maintains intestinal stability," Chapkin said.

The study, free and available to the general public appears in the journal Genome Biology.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Health, the Hatch project through the Division of Nutritional Sciences Vision 20/20 program and USDA-NIFA Grant Designing Foods for Health. The authors declared no competing interests.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 1, 2012
Last Updated:
May 1, 2012