Researchers find the molecules in breast milk that may protect infants from developing allergies

In research that has potentially hugely significant implications for baby formula, researchers have pinpointed the molecules in breast milk that may reduce the likelihood of infants developing allergic conditions like atopic dermatitis and food allergies.

Breastfed babies are believed to suffer fewer allergic conditions, such as eczema and food allergies, than formula-fed babies; yet the reason has not been well understood. If the molecules identified by the research could be put in formula, it may therefore help lower the odds of babies developing allergies, the scientists said.

Atopic conditions, like food allergies, asthma and a skin condition called atopic dermatitis occur in approximately one-third of children as a result of inappropriate activation of the immune system to environmental exposures.

“Infants who breastfeed beyond three months may have a lower risk for these conditions, but we don’t fully understand the biology behind this,”​ explained  Dr. Steven Hicks, associate professor of pediatrics and pediatrician at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

Hicks’ prior studies have demonstrated how micro‑ribonucleic acids (miRNAs), or tiny molecules that can regulate gene expression throughout the body, can be used to diagnose certain health conditions like concussion or autism.

There are nearly 1,000 different kinds of miRNAs in human breast milk and composition varies due to maternal characteristics like weight, diet and genetics. Hicks and his team therefore hypothesized that four of these miRNAs could have a protective effect against infant allergies.

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