Telomeres are DNA stretches, which protect genes from getting damaged by capping the chromosomes ends. You can compare them to the plastic coverings at the end of the shoelaces. As people grow older and their cells divide, the length of the telomeres becomes shorter. Chronic illnesses like diabetes in adults are linked to shorter telomeres. There are past studies, which have associated telomeres with longevity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a new research that the length of the telomere is early life may be malleable. The finding is that children who took breast milk in the first 4 to 6 weeks after birth had longer telomeres than those who took sugar water, teas, juice or formula.

How was the study conducted?

The study was done on the lives of 4-and-5-year-olds since birth. The researchers kept in touch with these children who had taken part in the Hispanic Eating and Nutrition study that comprised of 201 San Francisco babies born to Latin mothers. The group was recruited in 2006 and 2007 when their mothers were still pregnant. The research aimed at investigating how the early life experiences of a person, their environment and eating habits affects the development of metabolic and cardiac diseases.

The research took measurements of the babies’ height and weight as they grew. When they reached the age of 4 to 6 weeks, details of their feeding habits was taken. This included information about breast milk and for how long they have been breast feeding. Apart from this, other food substitutes such as waters, flavored milk, juices, sugar-sweetened beverages and formula were also taken. Their mothers’ information was also taken.

What were the findings?

The researchers assumed that the children were exclusively breast-fed if they were given nothing else apart from breast milk and vitamins or medicine. When they reached 4 and 5 years old, the blood samples of 121 children were taken which would be used to investigate the telomeres length. The finding was that the children who exclusively fed on breast milk had telomeres of length 5 percent longer than those who did not.

Janet M. Wojcicki, a lead author of the paper and an associate professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of California said that the findings will help explain the trove of benefits coming from breast feeding. He said that breast milk is remarkable in the sense that it improves health across all species. He went to explain that telomere biology plays a crucial role in aging, disease and human health.

Relationship between telomeres and breastfeeding

Numerous explanations have been made on how longer telomeres are linked to breastfeeding. Breast milk has inflammatory compounds that protect the telomeres. There is a huge possibility that parents who exclusively breast feed their babies are keep to stick on a healthy diet.

The other explanation is that breast feeding creates a mother-to-child attachment. Dr. Pathik D. Wadhwa, who was not part of the research, said that past studies have shown that babies coming orphans have shorter telomeres. Thus, the care that the babies get while breast-feeding may be the reason for the longer telomere.

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