Colostrum, Microbes, Mothers, and Infants: Its only Natural
R.H. Bennett Ph.D.
Applied Life Sciences LLC
Perhaps some of you have been around long enough to remember a margarine commercial that implied it was so good it could be mistaken for real butter. The byline was, “It is not nice to fool Mother Nature." It was catchy, yet as a scientist, it reminds me that Mother Nature perfects her work over hundreds of millions of years. We have learned much by studying how nature succeeds. There is no more important lesson to be learned than studying how nature brings the next generation into the world.
Unfortunately, the ways of the modern Western world have been messing with Mother Nature. Let us take a look at Mother Nature and how we can help restore her wisdom.
Our work back in the 1970ʻs at the University of California at Davis painstaking researched the mammary secretion, known as colostrum. Today, we are still discovering attributes of colostrum that support the vitality of the newborn and more.
Briefly, colostrum has high-quality proteins and fats necessary for growth. More than that, it has many factors that support every aspect of the newborns developing immune system. However, in the last year or so, it has become quite evident colostrum has a huge role in supporting the neonate’s gut microbiome or H.A.T.S. (Human Adapted Targeted Symbiotics)
In natures design, colostrum contains concentrated prebiotics. These are non-digestible carbohydrates called oligo-saccharides (meaning few sugars)(2). They are energy foods for a microbe called Bifidobacteria. (Bifid-o-bacteria). That is to say; colostrum contains high concentrations of a nutrient just for the Bifidoʻs. The next logical question to ask is; where to the Bifidobacteria originate? They live in and on the mother. These bacteria and other beneficial microbes are part of the microflora of the gut and the birth canal. On baby’s birthing day, the infant gets both probiotics and HATS probiotics as nature intends.
There are substances in colostrum and milk that promote other beneficial HATS (1). It is little wonder that breastfed infants are much healthier than those raised on formula alone. These benefits last for years and perhaps a lifetime.
Wait, there is more to the HATS microbiome story about mother and child. When researchers gave expectant mothers the probiotic HATS, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG; they anticipated the probiotic would show up in the stool. Instead, they observed an increase in the stool Bifidobacteria but not the probiotic!(3,4) As mentioned in the post Names and Numbers, the microbiome is a complex ecosystem. It appears that L. rhamnosus created conditions in mom’s microbiome that favored the Bifidoʻs and they colonized the mother. At birth, they colonize the infant.
Not only that, when mothers were given the HATS, the immune enhancement of these bacteria in the maternal gut increased immune modulators in her blood and the blood of the newborn. The probiotic increased the immune cytokine (messenger) Interferon Gamma (INF δ) in the blood, and it also increased the growth factor Transforming Growth Factor Beta (TFG β) in the colostrum (5,6).
These messengers are called cytokines. INF δ is a potent mediator that upgrades immune responses especially to virus invasions. Such infections in the neonate can be devastating. TFG β in the colostrum sends a powerful signal to the cells lining the neonates gut to grow into a substantial barrier that keeps the members of the microbiome contained safely in the cavity of the intestine.
One more science surprise completes this remarkable mother-infant microbiome story. Researchers looked to see if they could find gut microbiome bacteria in the placental or naval cord blood. They could not locate any viable bacteria as we know the placenta to be a protective barrier. Remarkably, they did find the DNA from Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. The DNA is a molecule and not living and cannot cause disease. What is it doing as it passes through the blood of the fetus? DNAʻs microbes interact with receptors or antennae on immune cells. These are called PPRʻs or Pattern Recognition Receptors. The DNA attaches to the PPR, and the immune cell is alerted. Thus the immune system becomes more vigilant. For an unborn baby that is about to make the grand entry into the human world of microbes, this is a good thing.
The quality of the Western adult microbiome becomes altered and artificial with each passing generation. It may appear to be butter when actually it is margarine. When we provide HATS probiotics for Mom three good, and natural things occur. She shares her beneficial microbes. Her colostrum is enriched with growth factors. Her blood conveys beneficial messages to the unborn infant. Nature smiles and approvingly nods, as if to say, "you’re learning, you cannot fool me."