Human Milk Inactivates Pathogens Individually, Additively, and Synergistically

Charles E. Isaacs

J. Nutr. 135:1286-1288, May 2005


Breast-feeding can reduce the incidence and the severity of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections in the suckling neonate by providing additional protective factors to the infant’s mucosal surfaces. Human milk provides protection against a broad array of infectious agents through redundancy. Protective factors in milk can target multiple early steps in pathogen replication and target each step with more than one antimicrobial compound. The antimicrobial activity in human milk results from protective factors working not only individually but also additively and synergistically. Lipid-dependent antimicrobial activity in milk results from the additive activity of all antimicrobial lipids and not necessarily the concentration of one particular lipid. Antimicrobial milk lipids and peptides can work synergistically to decrease both the concentrations of individual compounds required for protection and, as importantly, greatly reduce the time needed for pathogen inactivation. The more rapidly pathogens are inactivated the less likely they are to establish an infection. The total antimicrobial protection provided by human milk appears to be far more than can be elucidated by examining protective factors individually.

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