Breastfeeding is well-known to produce health benefits in infants that can even extend into adulthood. Previous research has shown that babies who are breastfed are less likely to develop asthma, obesity, and autoimmune diseases later in life compared to those who are exclusively formula-fed.
But exactly how breastmilk provides these benefits has not been well understood.
Recently, researchers at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. provided some new insight into the biological processes behind the long-term positive health impacts of breastfeeding.
In a new study of healthy breastfed and formula-fed babies born at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, they discovered that a specific type of immune cells, called regulatory T cells, rapidly grow in number during the first three weeks of life in breastfed babies, becoming nearly twice as abundant as in formula-fed babies. These cells help reduce inflammation by controlling the baby’s immune response against maternal cells transferred in breastmilk.
The study also showed that two specific types of bacteria that support the function of regulatory T cells, called Veillonella and Gemella, are more numerous in the guts of breastfed babies.
The results of the study, which was published in Allergy, emphasize the importance of breastfeeding even more, the researchers said.