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Breast Milk Has A Super Ingredient That Fights Growth Of Bad Bacteria
  • The advantages of breastfeeding has made human milk the best first food to give to your baby. No infant formula can replicate the natural antibodies of breast milk, which helps protects infants from illness in the first few months. But it has not stopped scientists from trying to figure out how the goodness of breast milk can be used in the future compositions of formula milk, as one recent study showed.

    The study, published in October 2019 in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that human breast milk contains 3,000 micrograms per milliliter of a compound called glycerol monolaureate (GML). The same compound is present in cow’s milk but the amount is only 150 micrograms per milliliter. Infant formula milk has none.

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    GML in breast milk helps kill harmful bacteria

    GML is a naturally occurring fatty acid with broad antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been widely utilized in food, cosmetics, and homeopathic supplements. Other examples of fatty acids are omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA, that some infant formula milk already contains.

    Researchers from National Jewish Health and the University of Iowa then tested the human milk, cow’s milk, and infant formula to see GML’s effect on the growth of certain bacteria. They found that human breast milk is more effective at stopping the growth of different bacteria, namely Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis,Clostridium perfringens, and Escherichia coli, which all causes infections and gastrointestinal illnesses.

    Without GML in human breast milk, it became powerless against bad bacteria growth. When GML levels in cow’s milk were boosted, it successfully stopped the growth of Staphylococcus aureus. The researchers noted that GML may not be as powerful against Escherichia coli, but they believe it works with other compounds found in breast milk to successfully destroy it.


    On the other hand, human breast milk did not affect the growth of the good, beneficial bacteria such as Enterococcus faecilis, the study results showed. The researchers also found that breastfed babies have high levels of beneficial bacteria, namely bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and enterococci bacteria.

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    GML may help protect infants when breast milk is not an option

    “Our findings demonstrate that high levels of GML are unique to human breast milk and strongly inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria,” senior study author Donald Leung, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, said in a press release.

    Compared to antibiotics, which fight harmful bacteria and kills good bacteria that the body needs, GML is much more selective, only destroying the bad bacteria, explained Patrick Schlievert, Ph.D., study lead author and professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

    Schlievert and Leung think GML may be added to cow’s milk and infant formula milk and help protect babies who cannot be breastfed from illnesses during the first few months of life from the same way breast milk does.

    The study also shows that GML has anti-inflammatory properties vital in protecting babies’ intestines. It could be a factor why infant formula milk sometimes upsets an infant’s digestive system. The researchers suggest GML’s anti-inflammatory properties may also be the reason breast milk is effective when used to treat atopic dermatitis. (Read here what else breast milk can help cure.)

    According to WebMD, the researchers have applied for a patent for the use of GML as an additive to cow's milk and infant formula.

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