By Dr. Mercola
There are many reasons why breastfeeding is a superior option to formula feeding for babies, however, a new study provides one of the most compelling to date.
Infant formulas are typically processed under high heat, and this leads to the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGES).
AGES are sugar molecules that attach to and damage proteins in your body.
Not only do they build up in your body over time, leading to oxidation and speeding up the aging process, but they also lead to inflammation, which in turn is linked to a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
AGES Double in Infants Switched From Breast milk to Formula
If you're a breastfeeding mom who needs encouragement to continue nursing for one year or beyond, consider this fact: when infants were switched from breast milk to commercial formula within the first year of life, their levels of AGEs doubled to levels found in people with diabetes.
Many of the infants also had elevated insulin levels, which may be directly attributable to the AGEs in the infant formula.
While a woman's blood level of AGEs does impact her newborn's levels (the researchers found newborns' blood levels of AGEs were nearly as high as that of their mother's, which is yet another why pregnant women should cut back on their processed food intake), her breast milk is still a superior source of nutrition. Infant formulas processed with high heat may have 100 times more AGEs than breast milk.
As a result, formula-fed babies are being exposed to unacceptably high levels of these toxins, putting their health at risk -- completely unbeknownst to most parents!
Why Exposing Your Baby to High Levels of AGEs Could be Tragic …
Glycation is a process in which the sugar in food bonds with proteins and forms so-called 'advanced glycation end products', or AGEs. It's a fitting acronym because – along with oxidation – it's one of the major molecular mechanisms whereby damage accrues in your body, which leads to disease, aging, and premature death.
When sugar is glycated, it contributes to inflammation, which activates your immune system defensively. Macrophages are scavenger cells that are part of your immune defense system, and as such they have special receptors for AGEs, aptly called RAGEs (think: raging inflammation). These RAGEs bind to the AGEs and get rid of them.
Unfortunately, this process can leave its fair share of battle scars. Inside your arteries, for example, the scar tissue created from this process is called plaque. This also explains why there's such a strong connection between diabetes and heart disease, and why infants exposed to high levels of AGEs in infant formula may have had elevated insulin levels.
To avoid AGEs in your diet, you need to pay attention to avoiding foods cooked at high heat, including processed and pasteurized foods like infant formula.
In July 2011, the first study in humans showing that AGEs promote insulin resistance and diabetes was published. People with diabetes who ate an AGE-restricted diet (this included foods that were poached or stewed instead of cooked at high heat, such as grilling, frying or broiling) had a 35 percent decrease in insulin levels, to give you an idea of just how great an impact appropriate dietary changes can have on your, or your child's, health.
Many Infant Formulas are Loaded With Sugar
Tragically, many infant formulas are more than 50 percent sugar -- 43 percent being corn syrup solids, which means they're also high in fructose. Metabolically, consuming fructose is very similar to alcohol on a chronic basis, so there appears to be a surprising similarity between giving your infant a can of soda, or a bottle of most conventional infant formulas.
I've written numerous articles about the dangers of consuming fructose, including its ability to trigger glycation, disturb your metabolism, elevate blood pressure and triglycerides, cause weight gain, heart disease and liver damage, and even deplete your body of vitamins and minerals.
There is no way that a baby should be consuming any corn syrup whatsoever, and the fact that infant formulas are able to be marketed as nutritious for babies when they're loaded with corn syrup is incredibly deceptive. If you currently have infant formula in your home, check the label for corn syrup or corn syrup solids, and in the interest of your baby, throw the can away if you find it.
Infant Formula is Also Inferior to Breast milk Because of What it Does NOT Contain …
Nearly all commercial infant formulas contain substances your infant is better off avoiding, like corn syrup and AGEs, but it also is lacking in other key components that breast milk naturally provides. Chief among these are probiotics, friendly bacteria that help your body to thrive. In Greek, the term pro means "for life," and the large amount of careful research surrounding these healthful microorganisms suggests that they are an integral part of your, and your child's, well-being.
Breast milk is a natural source of probiotics, so babies who are breastfed receive an ideal source of your first immune-building good bacteria, and as a result also tend to have intestinal microflora in which beneficial bifidobacteria predominate over potentially harmful bacteria.
Some infant formulas do contain added probiotics, but they are going to be inferior to those that are found naturally in breast milk. Others contain none at all. Ideally, you should be sure you are getting probiotics while you're pregnant, from eating traditionally fermented foods like kefir, natto and sauerkraut, which are rich in probiotics, or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement, and then continue these probiotic-rich foods in your infant's diet.
Make Sure You Baby is Also Getting This …
The omega-3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an essential structural component of your brain and retina, is found naturally in breast milk and is missing entirely from many infant formulas. DHA is essential to your child's development and if your child is deficient in it, their nervous and immune system may never fully develop, leading to a lifetime of unexplained emotional, learning and immune system disorders.
DHA makes up 15 percent to 20 percent of the cerebral cortex and 30 percent to 60 percent of the retina so it is absolutely necessary for normal development of the fetus and baby.
Because a fetus depends on mother's DHA sources, the constant drain on a mother's DHA reserves can easily lead to a deficiency and some researchers believe that preeclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure) and postpartum depression could be linked to a DHA deficiency -- just one more reason why it's so important to maintain your levels during pregnancy.
After your child is born, it's essential that he or she continues to receive DHA either from breast milk or a high-quality animal-based supplement. In the past, the ideal way to receive these fats was from seafood. However in the last 50 years industrial pollution with chemicals and heavy metals has changed all that. In fact, babies exposed in the womb to higher levels of mercury, due to their mom's fish-rich diet, scored lower on skills tests when they became infants and toddlers. To put it simply, the beneficial effects of the omega-3s were cancelled out by the mercury.
The best alternative to seafood is an animal-based omega-3 fat supplement, of which krill oil and fish oil are the two major players. But there is reason to believe that krill oil actually offers superior benefits.
Fish oil is certainly more widely known, and this is related to the fact that the bulk of the published studies are done with fish oil and not krill oil. That is changing, but it will take many decades before krill oil catches up to fish oil in terms of popularity. That said, it just doesn't make sense that you and your family have to wait decades to get the benefits of krill oil, as it is, in my opinion, the preferred choice. You can read more about why that is here.
I believe all pregnant and breastfeeding women would be wise to supplement with a high-quality animal-based omega-3 fat like krill oil, and if your baby is formula-fed, you can give krill oil to them directly. Consult your holistic pediatrician for proper dosage.
Do You Need Help With Breastfeeding?
Unfortunately, the United States is not the most breastfeeding-friendly culture, so surrounding yourself with women who have experience in this area can be a great help. Whether you want to prepare beforehand, or find you're having trouble breastfeeding once your baby is born, Le Leche League is a terrific resource to consider.
Keep in mind that while there are certain medical conditions that can prevent a woman from breastfeeding, the majority of women are able to produce adequate supplies of milk and breastfeed successfully. Often, those who believe they cannot may be misinformed, and believe they don't have enough milk; this is a common misperception. However, in the vast majority of circumstances, all women have enough milk to breastfeed.
The more your baby nurses, the more milk you will produce. Mom needs to drink plenty of water and seek optimal nutrition while nursing, and the beginning weeks and months are critical in the process.
If you find you are unable to breastfeed, the next best alternative is donated breast milk from a healthy, trusted donor, which has been screened for hepatitis C and HIV. If that is not available, another option is to make a healthy homemade infant formula. There may be others, but here is one recipe for homemade formula created by the Weston Price Foundation, which I believe is sound.
As an aside, definitely avoid all soy infant formula, as it is loaded with toxic elements like high doses of manganese and aluminum, not to mention the hormone-disrupting potential of the soy itself.