UC Davis: Formula-fed babies may be more susceptible to chronic disease
August 8, 2013
• Experience metabolic stress
• “Infant feeding practice profoundly influences metabolism”
Formula-fed infants experience metabolic stress that could make them more susceptible than breast-fed infants to a wide range of health issues such as obesity, diabetes, liver problems and cardiovascular disease, according to new research at the University of California, Davis.
A study by biochemists Carolyn Slupsky and Bo Lonnerdal, both of the UC Davis Department of Nutrition, sheds new light on the link between infant formula feeding and increased risk of chronic diseases later in life.
"We're not saying formula-fed babies will grow up with health issues, but these results indicate that choice of infant feeding may hold future consequences," says Ms. Slupsky, lead author of the study and also a faculty member in the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology.
Ms. Slupsky and her colleagues used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to look at how diet affects compounds in blood and urine in infant rhesus monkeys, which provide an animal model similar to humans in this type of research. After just four weeks, the formula-fed infants were larger than their breast-fed counterparts, had developed distinct bacterial communities in their gut, had higher insulin levels and were metabolizing amino acids differently.
"Our findings support the contention that infant feeding practice profoundly influences metabolism in developing infants and may be the link between early feeding and the development of metabolic disease later in life," Ms. Slupsky says.
The formula-fed babies grew quickly -- perhaps too quickly – which researchers link, in part, to excess protein.
"You want your baby to grow, of course, but growing too quickly is not such a good thing," says Ms. Slupsky, who hopes her findings will help new mothers and the physicians who advise them make informed choices about what to feed their babies.
"Mother's milk is an excellent source of nutrition that can't be duplicated," she says. For parents who formula-feed their infant, Ms. Slupsky hopes the science can lead to more beneficial formulas.
"Knowing what we now know, perhaps infant formulas that better mimic the protective effects of breast milk can be generated," she says.
Funding for the study was provided by New Zealand’s Fonterra Research and Development Centre, which describes itself as “one of the largest research facilities in the world dedicated to dairy.”