Baby formula may have long-term effect on health

UC DAVIS (US) — Formula-fed infants experience metabolic stress that could put them at a greater risk than breast-fed babies to a wide range of health issues.

“We’re not saying formula-fed babies will grow up with health issues, but these results indicate that choice of infant feeding may hold future consequences,” says Carolyn Slupsky, a biochemist at the University of California, Davis Department of Nutrition.

Slupsky, Bo Lönnerdal, and their colleagues used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to look at how diet affects compounds in blood and urine in infant rhesus monkeys, which provide an animal model similar to humans in this type of research. The findings were reported in the June issue of the Journal of Proteome Research.

Metabolic stress

After just four weeks, the formula-fed infants were larger than their breast-fed counterparts, had developed distinct bacterial communities in their gut, had higher insulin levels, and were metabolizing amino acids differently.


“Our findings support the contention that infant feeding practice profoundly influences metabolism in developing infants and may be the link between early feeding and the development of metabolic disease later in life,” Slupsky says.  Future health issues may include obesity, diabetes, liver problems, and cardiovascular disease.

The formula-fed babies grew quickly—perhaps too quickly—which researchers link, in part, to excess protein.

“You want your baby to grow, of course, but growing too quickly is not such a good thing,” says Slupsky, who hopes her findings will help new mothers and the physicians who advise them make informed choices about what to feed their babies.

“Mother’s milk is an excellent source of nutrition that can’t be duplicated,” Slupsky says, who is also a faculty member in the Department of Food Science and Technology. For parents who formula-feed their infant, she hopes the science can lead to more beneficial formulas.

“Knowing what we now know, perhaps infant formulas that better mimic the protective effects of breast milk can be generated.”

Slupsky and her team are now working to compare how compounds in breast milk differ between mothers and at different times during lactation, as well as how different formulas with varying nutrient content affect infant metabolism.

Neill Haggarty of Fonterra Co-operative Group in New Zealand collaborated on the research, which was funded by Fonterra Research and Development Centre.

Source: UC Davis