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Breastfeeding May Program Long Term Metabolism

Breastfeeding Infants and Metabolism

The choice between breastfeeding or formula feeding in the first days or weeks of an infant's life could actually have a long term impact on the child's metabolism, a phenomenon researchers are calling the metabolic programming affect.

Breastfed Infants Have Lower Blood Pressure, Larger Heads

According to a study presented on Monday at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Denver, breastfeeding infants develop specific metabolism and growth patterns unlike the patterns developed by their formula fed counterparts. Researchers believe this affect could be caused by the protein content found in standard infant formulas.

For this study researchers enrolled 234 infants, all less than one week of age from the Neonatal Department of Hospices Civils de Lyon, Claude Bernard University, Lyon, France. These infants were then divided into 3 separate groups. The infants in the first group were exclusively breastfed for the first 4 months of life, where as the other two groups received either exclusive high protein formula (2.7 grams/100 calories) or low protein formula (1.8 grams/100 calories).

Each group was evaluated continuously for growth, body composition and blood pressure over the course of three years to determine whether or not their early nutrition would have a long term impact on their health.

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Study co-author Dr. Guy Putet explained that the most surprising finding that he and his team discovered was that at 3 years of age children who were formula fed had higher blood pressures than those who were breastfed. However, the pressures remained within in normal ranges.

The study also revealed that after just 15 days, the breastfeeding infants showed lower levels of blood insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to properly metabolize glucose and disruption in this process can lead to diabetes. This effect disappeared by 9 months of age.

Growth patterns among the infants also differed within the first 3 years of life, but by the final evaluation all significant differentiating factors (height, weight, body fat, etc.) evened out among the groups with the exception of head circumference. Infant head sizes of formula-fed infants remained slightly smaller, although within normal ranges.

"It appears that formula feeding induces differences in some hormonal profiles as well as in patterns of growth compared with breastfeeding," said the study's co-author Dr. Guy Putet. The researchers suspect that these difference could actually be lifelong.

Despite the interesting finding that Putet discovered, he goes to conclude that more research and longer follow up periods are needed to come to a more definitive conclusion about the role of protein in infant formula and long term health and metabolism.