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Breast feeding improves baby's DNA

A research conducted by scientists at the University of Illinois suggests that breast-feeding positively affects the genes of infants, and is far more beneficial than formula-feeding.

world Updated: May 24, 2010 18:46 IST

Justifying the notion that mother's milk is far better than any formula; scientists have claimed that breast milk improves the functioning of a child's genes in a way that protects him from illness.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that infants' first food affects their gene expression, providing a possible explanation for how breast milk impacts health.

Gene expression is the process by which instructions in a gene are used to synthesise a functional gene product, mostly proteins. When genes are expressed, it is as if they are "turned on".

Lead researcher Sharon Donovan said that it has already been known that breast milk contains immunity providing components that make a breast-fed infant's risk lower for all kinds of illnesses.

"But what we haven't known is how breast milk protects the infant and particularly how it regulates the development of the intestines," she said, adding that understanding these modalities could help formula makers develop a product that is more like the real substance.

"Genes are really sensitive to nutrition. And we now have genes that may explain many of the clinical observations of how breast-fed and formula-fed infants differ," she told LiveScience.

Using a novel non-invasive technique for their study, the researchers compared 10 three-month-old formula-fed babies with 12 breast-fed infants of the same age, as the procedure of their experiment.

Capitalising on the natural sloughing off of intestinal cells during digestion, they looked for signs of gene expression, in the form of messenger RNA, in the babies' poop.It was found that breast milk and artificial formula have different effects on at least 146 genes. According to Donovan, most of the genes enhanced by breast milk promote quick development of the intestines and the immunity system.

Some of the genes positively affected by breast milk protect children against against "leaky gut", a disorder in which foreign particles enter the bloodstream through the intestinal walls, she said. Previous researches have suggested that the disease increases the risk of allergies and various inflammatory diseases such as asthma, colitis and Crohn's disease - disorders that are seen mostly among formula-fed babies.