Science is only just beginning to unravel what nature has known for eons: the complexities of human breastmilk.
Most people know breastmilk provides vitally important nutrition for babies.
What is even more interesting is breastmilk provides so much more than simple nutrition.
In this way, breast milk plays an important role in the development of various parts of the body.
New Immune Cells Found In Breastmilk: Study
Breastmilk also contains a range of substances that help support a baby’s immune system.
For example, breastmilk contains lactoferrin, which kills bacteria and other harmful microorganisms, due to its ability to bind iron, and therefore deprive potential pathogens of this essential nutrient.
Breastmilk contains millions of cells, including many types of immune cells. Recently, science has discovered new immune cells, called innate lymphoid cells, in breastmilk.
So, what do innate lymphoid cells do?
They Protect Against Pathogens
Innate lymphoid cells are groups of immune cells that influence immunity, inflammation and the maintenance of an internal steady state in bodily tissues.
They help protect against pathogens by sending chemical messengers (cytokines) to instruct the biggest of the white blood cells (macrophages) to attack pathogens.
When either a baby or a mother is unwell, the immune cells that fight infection increase in the mother’s breastmilk to help fight the infection. It’s thought innate lymphoid cells might play a similar role.
They Help Develop A Baby’s Own Immune System
Three kinds of innate lymphoid cells have been discovered in breastmilk. The most abundant kind is called Type 1. Type 1 innate lymphoid cells from breastmilk can survive in a baby’s gut for at least one week.
In a baby’s gut, they can play a role in developing the gut microbiome and help the baby’s own immune system to develop and provide greater protection.
It has also been suggested innate lymphoid cells in breastmilk could help protect mothers from acquiring an infection from their suckling babies.