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Study: New Immune Cells Found in Breast Milk Make It Irreplaceable
As if we didn’t already know how valuable breast milk is, researchers have discovered a team of immune cells in breast milk that are ready to conquer potential pathogens.
There is a plethora of research on the benefits of breast milk, including its ability to boost an infant’s immune system. Mother’s milk has been found to contain millions of cells, many of which aid immunity.
To add to the evidence, researchers from Augusta University have detected the presence of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells, or ILCs, in human breast milk. Their findings, which were based on extensive cell analysis of milk from four lactating women, were published last month in JAMA Pediatrics.
Innate lymphoid cells are the most recently discovered group of immune cells. Found to influence immunity, inflammation, and tissue homeostasis, these essential cells have only been studied for the past ten years. For the first time, ILCs have been found in breast milk.
According to Science Daily, ILCs do not attack pathogens directly. Instead, they send cytokines to direct the most abundant immune cell, macrophages, to do that job. These “big eaters” are the largest of the white blood cells and literally envelop unwanted bacteria, pathogens, and dead body tissue.
Three types of ILCs have been found in breastmilk. The most prevalent, type 1, are transferred to the baby via breastmilk and survive in the infant’s gut for at least several days.
As far as researchers can tell, the ILCs in breast milk may protect babies from infection in the short term, as well as help them to develop their own protective immune system over time. More, the ILCs might also protect the mother from getting an infection from the baby. There is speculation that the ILCs are responsible for the dynamic that allows breast milk to change and adapt as a baby fights off an infection.
In searching for the source for which could provide immune protection to the baby, the ILCs were found. “We think these cells help provide frontline immune protection for the baby,” says Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, chief of the Section of Neonatology and vice chair of clinical research in the MCG Department of Pediatrics.