Since finishing my PhD at Aarhus University Hospital and coming to work with Arla Foods Ingredients as a research scientist, I have spent quite some time researching the circumstances that are likely to cause obesity across different age ranges. So, when study results indicated that low protein infant formula, for instance, enriched with alpha-lactalbumin – the most abundant protein in human milk – may slow down the incidence of obesity in children, and have a range of health effects such as enhanced protection and promoting a healthy gut, too, it certainly got my attention.
Mother knows best
Human breast milk represents the best balance of nutrients for infants – and it’s the preferred source of sustenance for the very young. Where the infant cannot be breastfed, whatever the reason, then achieving a formula as close as possible to human milk in its nutritional composition is a key quality measure.
The more we’ve learned about human milk, however, the more we think alpha-lactalbumin must have special importance. It’s rich in essential amino acids crucial to infant development. Since standard infant formula is produced from bovine milk, it’s relative low in alpha-lactalbumin. In fact, standard infant formula contains less than half the amount of alpha-lactalbumin found in human milk as a percentage of total protein content.
Over the years, a growing body of research has suggested that high levels of protein in infant formula contribute to early-life weight gain at a faster rate than seen in infants raised on human milk, potentially leading to obesity. And in concurrent studies, low-protein formulations have been associated with reduced risk of obesity in infancy and childhood1-4.
Adding alpha-lactalbumin enables the overall protein content of infant formula to be reduced, more closely matching human milk in terms of protein concentration and composition. But protein content reduction is just one of the potential advantages of this ‘gold standard’ ingredient.
Formula-fed infants are more prone to gastrointestinal problems (such as abdominal pain, constipation or vomiting) that can make being a baby or its parent a lot less enjoyable, however, in studies it have been found that alpha-lactalbumin-enrichment decreases feeding-related gastrointestinal issues5-7. So for infant comfort, alpha-lactalbumin-enriched infant formulas are shown to be better accepted and tolerated7.
Right now, we are conducting a Swedish-based study, where our alpha-lactalbumin is included in the formula. We will closely follow the development of the infants in this study over time and we look forward to seeing the results and sharing them with you.
1 Koletzko et al. 2009. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 89, 1836-1845
2 Weber et al. 2014. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 99, 1041-1051
3 Trabulsi et al. 2011. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 65, 167-74
4 Fleddermann et al. 2014. Clin. Nutr. 33, 588-595
5 Davis et al. 2008. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 62, 1294-1301
6 Dupont et al. 2010. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 64, 765-767
7 Lien et al 2004. J. Pediatr. Gastr. Nutr. 38, 170-176
Arla Foods Ingredients supports the WHO recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two or beyond in combination with nutritionally appropriate complementary foods.
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