Monday, 26 April 2010

Breastfeeding helps build healthy bones

Nutrition is a key ingredient in health and wellness for every individual. Even before conception, the mother's nutritional state influences her baby's genetic and physical makeup, plus long term health and wellbeing.

Osteoporosis is a crippling and painful disease that afflicts some people as they age.

A wide variety of high impact exercise during the teenage years plus good nutrition including calcium and Vitamin D is known to set in place stable bone mass and provide a healthy bone structure for life. Weight bearing and resistance exercise, including netball, basketball, tennis, swimming and sprinting in the teenage years, means reduced risk of osteoporosis in the later years. Peak bone mass for girls is laid down by 16 years of age for girls and 20 years of age for young men.

A new study by Stahl and colleagues have found that calcium intake in the neonatal period may be critical for life long bone health.

Stahl et al took two groups of newborn piglets and fed one group calcium enriched diet and the other group were fed calcium deficient diet during their first 18 days of life. The piglets were subjected to frequent blood sampling and daily weighing. At the end of the study, samples were collected from the bone marrows, livers, kidneys and small intestines of the animals. The strength and bone density of their hind legs was also tested.

Calcium deficient piglets were compromised in their bone density and strength. Many of the mesenchymal stem cells that eventually become bone forming cells were found to have been programmed to become fat cells. Reduced numbers of bone forming osteoblasts in early life means a reduced ability to repair and grow bones throughout life. The researchers conclude that lack of calcium in the neonatal period leads to programmed mesenchymal stem cells, predisposing the individual to having bones that are less mineralised and contain more fat. In this way, Stahl suggests, osteoporosis can be seen as a paediatric disease with later onset, rather than a disease of old age.

Irrespective of what I think about this study on piglets, who are very intelligent and sensitively aware animals, I was intrigued that Stahl and his colleagues didn't also add a control group of breastfed piglets to the study. Breastmilk, also known as 'white blood' because of its alive, blood like nature and inability to be manufactured, is known to contain bio-available calcium amongst the nutrient mix. I would have thought to include breastfeeding and breastmilk to have been a foundational, sensible thing for a scientific endeavor aiming to find a reason and a cure for disease.

However, I found the following written in the article:

Stahl and his colleagues have a long-standing interest in understanding how much calcium babies need in order to optimize and strength when they get older. Not only is this a worthy academic question, but it has special relevance to the infant food industry which currently fortifies most baby formulas with calcium at levels substantially above those found in breastmilk - considered the "gold standard" for infant nutrition. This differential level of fortification has been based largely on older studies suggesting that breastmilk's calcium is substantially more usable than that in baby formulas. However, more recent research has challenged this dogma, and Dr. Stahl and his group are committed to helping determine what is best in this regard.
I italicized and bolded the words in the quoted text above.

You will notice several things about this quoted piece.

1. The infant food industry would seem to be behind this study from what is written above. No wonder that a breastfeeding control group was not included!
2. the words 'gold standard' are in inverted commas leading the reader to subliminally appraise the term negatively
3. The word 'dogma' is used to degrade the idea that breastmilk is the gold standard for infant nutrition.
4. Dr Stahl and his group are committed to helping determine what is best in this regard! Yet Dr Stahl does not include breastmilk in his study!!!

I know this study was about pigs, but I smell a rat!

Who pays Dr Stahl and who funded this research???

No matter what Stahl's objective or who funded the research, the study is actually useful for promoting breastfeeding as it shows how important good calcium intake is in early life and breastmilk provides that along with all the baby needs for optimal nutrition. Now we know breastfeeding protects the individual from osteoporosis and builds bones that can last a lifetime with the right input of exercise and good nutrition in adolescence.  Thank you Dr Stahl and colleagues.

Study suggests a much earlier onset for bone problems

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