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Breast Milk Offers Twice
The Antioxidant Protection


ORLANDO (Reuters Health) - Premature babies may especially benefit from breast milk because it's ``twice as good as formula'' at providing not only nutrients but antioxidant protection as well, according to a study presented at the Experimental Biology 2001 meeting here.

Dr. James Friel of Memorial University, St. John's, Newfoundland said that antioxidant protection is especially important for premature infants because their lungs as well as their immune systems are not fully developed when they are born. In an interview with Reuters Health Friel said, ``That means that these infants are under attack by oxygen free radicals but lack ability to cope with that stress.''

The result of this free radical attack is a condition called oxidative stress, which is associated with respiratory distress syndrome, hemorrhage, and eye disorders--ailments that frequently develop in premature infants.

Antioxidants mop up free radicals and thus protect the infants from the dangers of associated with oxidative stress, said Friel. Earlier studies found that breast milk contains ''antioxidant enzymes, but we thought that the levels of these enzymes may be greater in milk produced by mothers of premature infants,'' he said. Friel also hypothesized the milk from the first week following the delivery, actually the mineral-rich fluid called colostrum ``would be particularly protective.''

He explained that a kangaroo can nurse a year old offspring ''at one nipple and a week old one at another nipple. When the milk from each nipple is analyzed the nutrient content is different. We thought that human might have this same ability to produce a different type of milk to meet the special needs of a premature baby.''

In the study Friel compared milk from 28 women who had preterm deliveries to milk from 17 women who delivered after fullterm pregnancies. The milk was collected at weeks 1, 2, and 12, he said. He tested the antioxidant protection potency by exposing all the milk samples to high levels of free radicals.

The result was surprising: ``there was really no difference in the antioxidant protection level from week to week. It was all good,'' he said. Likewise, ``there was no difference between the mothers of premature babies and the mothers of fullterm babies.''

In addition to comparing the milk from the mothers of preemies to mothers of fullterm infants, Friel also attempted to enhance breast milk by fortifying it with more antioxidant enzymes. He also tried the same ``fortification'' with formula.

He discovered that when he added the antioxidant producing enzymes found in breast milk to commercial baby formula ``the formula offered better protection against free radicals. But when we added additional enzymes to the breast milk, it didn't increase the antioxidant protection of breast milk.'' He concludes that it is difficult to improve nature, but ''commercial formulas could be improved so that they more closely resemble human breast milk.'


Reference Source 89

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