New Brain-Boosting Chemicals Found in Breast Milk

Bludgeoner66/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bludgeoner86/2805332812/sizes/l/in/photostream/">Flickr</a>

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Breastfeeding has been widely recommended by organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC because of the health benefits to babies. Not only does breast milk seem to help babies’ disease resistance, it has also been correlated with higher IQs and even higher test scores. But why is breast milk a “brain food”? Scientists have a variety of theories: for one, brains are made up of fats, and breast milk contains lots of DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Breastfeeding is also soothing to the infant, which reduces stress hormones that might disrupt or slow brain development. This week, a new study out of PLoS One has found some additional brain boosters: S100B, BDNF, and GDNF.

The S100B protein, found in high levels in breast milk, is linked to brain maturation and development.

The protein BDNF (Brain-Developing Neurotrophic Factor), called “Miracle-Gro for the brain” by one scientist, helps existing neurons thrive and stimulates the growth of new neurons in various areas of the brain. It’s also tied to the development of long-term memory.

GDNF is short for Glial cell-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, and it’s a small but punchy protein: it helps very specific neurons develop, AND keeps them running. It’s so powerful that in adults, it’s been pegged as a possible treatment for degenerative neurological diseases like Parkinson’s.

Together, the researchers say, these chemicals may “exert a stimulating effect on neurodevelopment during breastfeeding or long afterward” and that the substances have been shown to be “critical” in “neuronal growth, development, protection, and repair.”

With an increasing list of benefits, it’s no wonder human breast milk is a hot commodity.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.