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Breastfeeding immunity

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What triggered this post is the announcement that all babies in the UK will soon have a potentially life-saving vaccine against meningitis B. Think for a moment, is vaccination your only option to reduce a meningitis B risk, could you do much more or even do it differently by breast feeding immunity.

Meningitis is a devastating disease, 5% to 10% of those who get it die and about a third will have disability including limb loss. This vaccine seeks to address MenB, one of the twelve serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis, six of which (A, B, C, W, X and Y) can cause epidemics. Bacteria are transmitted from person-to-person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from carriers. According to the World Health Organisation, in nonepidemic settings 10% to 20% of asymptomatic i.e. healthy individuals at any time carry Neisseria meningitidis in their upper airway. Which goes to show that a sufficiently robust immune system offers protection. This page highlights a few things you should know.

A bacterial infection wins when your baby or infant’s immune response cannot fight it off. So fuel your child’s immune system so it can fight infection off… right? Here’s the thing, a year on year increase in Diabetes II, Obesity proves that many people are not feeding right at all. So start with the glaringly obvious, it’s why our approach includes more nutrients for healthy babies as well as for mum’s postnatal health and wellbeing.

Opportunities to improve what’s in your breastmilk:

The amount of macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats) in breast milk varies little because mostly dietary intake of them is sufficient. However, the types of fats in your breast milk are affected by the types of fats you eat, so smart mothers ingest more Omega 3 oils. DHA-enriched fish oil targets B cell lipid microdomains and enhances in vivo and ex vivo B cell function i.e. bolster immune function. [J Leukoc Biol April 2013 93:463-470; doi:10.1189/jlb.0812394] Even smarter mothers also ingest antioxidants to stop good oils from going rancid due to free radical damage, advice in More Nutrients,right and in Clever Smoothies‘ see to that without extra effort.

It’s not so straight forward with micro-nutrients in breastmilk (e.g. Iron, Calcium, Zinc, Copper). Said to stay within healthy ranges in breast milk except in cases of extreme malnutrition of the mother and yet, it is well known that mum’s Iron deficiency during pregnancy can lower Iron stores in the baby… So, if it works like that for Iron, then it works like that for Zinc, Copper, Manganese… which is where feeding for immunity gets really interesting. Because experimental animal studies have demonstrated that even marginal trace element deprivation during critical periods of growth and development or, alternately, during prolonged deficiency in adults can significantly alter immunologic function. [Nutr Cancer 1982;3(3):172-91] For zinc, copper and iron the importance of adequate nutrition in maintaining immunocompetency cannot be understated. [J Nutr 1992 Mar;122(3 Suppl):604-9] Good news is that properly done ‘More Nutrients’ gives mum lots of micro-nutrients to pass on in breastmilk to her baby.

The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K of which E fulfils fat’s protective anti-oxidant role. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection. Vitamin A is a key factor in a tolerant, highly functional immune system. Vitamin K1 and K2 (MK-7) -important for bone and cardiovascular health- do not boost the immune system. If you do Rocket Fuel right, vitamin A, E and K are sorted. Vitamin D3 is widely available, also from our shop (see below).

Water soluble vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12 levels in breast milk are related to your intake. B12 is a special case for mothers following a vegan diet. Vitamin C has been shown to stimulate both the production and function of white blood cells especially neutrophils, T-lymphocytes and phagocytes. Notably B6 has a beneficial effect on immune responses (total lymphocyte count, T-helper and T-suppressor cell numbers, the percentage of T-lymphocyte cells and T-suppressors significantly increase). If you do clever smoothies right, vitamin C as well as the Bs helps your breast milk fuel your baby’s immunity.

Innate lymphoid cells are the most recently discovered group of immune cells and are very task-specific unlike the above nutrients. Found to influence immunity, inflammation, and tissue homeostasis, these essential cells have only been studied for the past ten years. Researchers from Augusta University have detected the presence of ILCs in human breast milk. The most prevalent, type 1, are transferred to the baby via breastmilk and survive in the infant’s gut for at least several days. Their findings, which were based on extensive cell analysis of milk from four lactating women, were published in Journal of the the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

Fuel up mum to fuel up breastmilk to fuel up baby

Common causes of bacterial meningitis vary by age group:

Age
Newborns Group B Streptococcus Escherichia coli Listeria monocytogenes
Infants and Children Streptococcus pneumoniae Neisseria meningitidis Haemophilus influenzae type b
Adolescents and Young Adults Neisseria meningitidis Streptococcus pneumoniae
Older Adults Streptococcus pneumoniae Neisseria meningitidis Listeria monocytogenes

In most newborn infections, Escherichia coli or other gram-negative bacteria have usually been passed from the mother’s genital tract to the newborn during childbirth. A good reason to make sure prospective mums are healthy before or at least during the period she is knowledgeable of her pregnancy. Group B Streptococcus or Streptococcus agalactiae is the most common cause of life threatening infections in newborn infants and are usually passed on to a baby during birth if the mother carries the bacteria.

Looking very very far ahead… it is illuminating that there is an increased risk for meningococcal disease among College Freshmen and Armed Forces recruits in their initial training camps (they are at substantially greater risk than regular troops). Illuminating only because what freshmen have in common with recruits is exhaustion (lowers immune system) and certainly for students the diet tends to have low micro-nutrient value and parties get in the way of sleep. Thus creating a locus minoris resistentiae (weakest link) and all that’s needed then is exposure, which is provided by comparatively crowded living conditions. It’s decades on from you feeding your baby’s immune system now, but it shows you that ingesting lots of clever smoothies to build innate strength is wise, always.

Make no mistake you DO have influence with nutrition. We use kefir as one ingredient in our approach’s clever smoothies, most kefir contains live active cultures of Lactobacillus Rhamnosus which have been found to inhibit group B streptococcus. [Mikrobiyol Bul. 2005 Jan;39(1):17-23] So, fuel up mum to fuel up breast milk to fuel up baby.

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