New research: BETAINE, a component of breast milk, may help improve long-term metabolic health of babies
I had never heard of this component of breast milk before - BETAINE.
A quick google search and I found out betaine is a type of amino acid widely found in animals, plants, whole-grain foods, seafood (especially marine invertebrates) and spinach.
And it's in breast milk.
New research suggests that betaine in breast milk may help improve long-term metabolic health of babies. Betaine could help the growth of beneficial bacteria in the infant gut, which may affect long-term metabolic health.
Ribo S. et al., (Mar 31, 2021) were looking to identify substances associated with
rapid early growth - which previous research had linked to increased risk of obesity in later life.
Scientists studied the breast milk from 34 exclusively breastfeeding mothers from Oklahoma, USA.
The scientists looked at choline, betaine, methionine, SAM, SAH, and cystathionine concentrations in the breast milk samples obtained 1 month after birth.
The scientists looked at potential associations with infant growth rate - looking for rapid increase in weight-for-length from birth to age 1 month.
The scientists adjusted for pre-pregnancy maternal BMI, gestational weight gain, and delivery method.
Breast milk betaine content is inversely associated with infant growth. To quote from the paper:
"We observed a significant inverse association between weight-for-length z score change and milk betaine concentration"
In other words: Low levels of betaine was linked to rapid early growth in babies.
Here's where things get really interesting....
Further research in mice found that babies that received betaine-enriched milk weighed 10% less than controls, and that difference continued into adulthood.
The effect was even more pronounced in the mouse babies (called pups) whose mothers were obese.
The scientists also found a link between higher betaine content in breast milk and higher abundance of a beneficial type of bacteria called Akkermansia muciniphila in the infant gut.
According to the paper, "Furthermore, administration of A. muciniphila
to mouse pups during the lactation period partially replicated the
effects of maternal breast milk betaine, including increased intestinal
goblet cell number, lower adiposity, and improved glucose homeostasis
during adulthood. These data demonstrate a link between breast milk
betaine content and long-term metabolic health of offspring.
Other research seems to reflect these findings.
According to this easy-to-understand article about the research in Science Mag "A second group of 109 babies and mothers, from Valencia, Spain, bolstered this connection. More betaine in breast milk was associated with more Akkerrmansia in the babies’ fecal samples at 12 months of age. Other studies have shown lower levels of Akkermansia in humans and animal models are associated with obesity and other metabolic conditions."
In other words:
More betaine in breast milk = more Akkermansia muciniphila in the infant gut = potentially better long-term metabolic health.
More research is needed to fully understand how betaine and the other components of breast milk may work to "control" metabolism in the infant, but it's another very interesting piece of a very complex but fascinating puzzle.
Article & science reference:
ARTICLE: Easy-to-understand article in Science Mag: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/03/breast-milk-ingredient-may-help-power-healthy-infant-gut?
SCIENCE REFERENCE: , March 31 2021, Vol. 13, Issue 587, eabb0322 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abb0322Increasing breast milk betaine modulates Akkermansia abundance in mammalian neonates and improves long-term metabolic health
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