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Researchers from Sweden's Umeå University have determined that breastfeeding increases a certain species of oral bacteria, and these oral bacteria inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria that infect gums and cause dental decay.
The researchers tested 133 infants who were born through vaginal delivery. The researchers conducted saliva and oral bacteria sampling on the infants after four months of age. Of the total group, 40 of the infants were breastfed, while 90 were fed by formula.
Of those fed by formula, 43 were given standard breastmilk formula while the rest were given a formula supplemented with milk fat globule membrane fractions.
The researchers then analyzed the oral cavity sampling and found that about a third (34%) of the breastfed babies' saliva contained significant lactobacilli counts – meaning strains of bacteria of the genus Lactobacillus.
In comparison, less than 5% of the infants fed the standard formula had colonized lactobacilli, while about 9% of the infants given the supplemented formula colonized lactobacilli.
After closer analysis, the researchers found that among the different Lactobacillus species, L. gasseri was the most prevalent to colonize among the oral cavities of the infants occupying 88% of their lactobacilli species.
The researchers studied the L. gasseri species found most prevalent among the saliva of the breastfed infants. They determined that these species of L. gasseri inhibited several microorganisms known to cause dental decay, gum disease, ear infections and other oral-sinus infections. These include the species Streptococcus mutans, Candida albicans, Streptococcus sobrinus, Actinomyces naeslundii, Actinomyces oris, and Fusobacterium nucleatum.
The researchers concluded:
"Lactobacilli colonized the oral cavity of breastfed infants significantly more frequently than formula-fed infants. The dominant Lactobacillus was L. gasseri, which was detected at higher levels in breastfed than formula-fed infants and displayed probiotic traits in vitro."
Furthermore, the researchers found that the saliva of the breastfed infants allowed for greater adhesion of the L. gasseri, allowing them to colonize in greater numbers following breastfeeding years.
This of course also indicates that the breastfed infants were more likely to better colonize L. gasseri within the intestines. Other research has shown that L. gasseri lower levels of disease-causing enzymes in the intestines. They also produce antibiotics that resist the growth of pathogenic bacteria within the intestines. Studies have found that L. gasseri inhibit the growth of Clostridium difficile, for example.
The researchers noted their research did not investigate the reason why 2/3 of the mothers did not supply Lactobacillus gasseri-rich breast milk as they fed their babies.
Other research indicates there are clear differences in probiotic colonization between individuals. And there are definitely choices we make that can significantly decrease our probiotic colonies. Furthermore, other research has proven methods to increase probiotic colonization once lost – both in the oral cavity and elsewhere. This goes for anyone, including breastfeeding mothers.
Vestman NR, Timby N, Holgerson PL, Kressirer CA, Claesson R, Domellöf M, Öhman C, Tanner AC, Hernell O, Johansson I. Characterization and in vitro properties of oral lactobacilli in breastfed infants. BMC Microbiol. 2013 Aug 15;13:193. doi: 10.1186/1471-2180-13-193.
Enoz M, Sevinc I, Lapeña JF. Bacterial and fungal organisms in otitis externa patients without fungal infection risk factors in Erzurum, Turkey. Braz J Otorhinolaryngol. 2009 Sep-Oct;75(5):721-5.