IT IS common knowledge that breast milk is the best diet for newborns. Several studies have even linked infant formula with chronic diseases such as obesity and type II diabetes in adulthood. The basis of this link has, however, been unclear. Researchers from University of California, Davis and Fonterra Ingredients Innovation, New Zealand, have found that feeding formula causes metabolic stress in infants and this causes complications later in life.
The researchers used rhesus monkey infants as human stand-ins for the study published in Journal of Proteome Research on June 5. Two groups of five monkeys each were given two different dietary treatments. One group was fed standard infant formula and other breast milk since birth. All the monkeys had same weight at birth but after three months it was found that formula-fed infants had grown faster than the ones fed with breast milk. The study explains that a higher rate of growth at this stage leads to adult obesity.
Formula feeding may lead to other complications as well. The study notes that higher growth rate in infants has also been linked with insulin resistance in adults. The results confirmed higher insulin levels in serum of formula-fed individuals, which could set stage for insulin resistance. Formula-fed infants also showed pro-inflammatory responses that are immune system’s reaction to injury or pathogens. This supports the hypothesis that formula feeding affects the immune system of infants, too.
Lactose level in excreta of formulafed infants was also found to be higher than that of breast-fed ones. This, the study explains, could be indicative of damage to the intestinal lining.
Arun Gupta, national coordinator of Delhi-based Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India believes such studies should influence policies, thus extending support to women. “Common belief is breastfeeding happens naturally but in reality women need support at each level for it,” he says.