Thursday, January 21, 2010

Babies fed porridge 'protected from asthma'

As I was fed on porridge from infancy on and right throughout my childhood, I would like to believe this but it is just the usual epidemiological speculation. It sounds like a data dredging result in fact. If you examine enough relationships, you will get some that appear significant by chance alone. The researchers do seem to be saying that porridge is better than mothers' milk, which is a bit weird

Babies fed porridge from an early age may be protected against asthma, according to new research. A study by Finnish scientists suggests that the earlier infants are introduced to porridge, or other foods made from oats, the less likely they are to develop the condition. Their research shows the risk of asthma later in childhood is reduced by almost two-thirds in babies first fed oats before they reach five months of age, compared to those introduced to them later.

Scientists who carried out the study believe early exposure to oats may be crucial in helping to ward off the disease. But the findings conflict with Department of Health infant feeding guidelines, which recommend breastfeeding for six months before introducing solid foods.

At least 1.1 million children in the UK suffer with asthma and the condition kills around 40 youngsters a year. According to Asthma UK, Britain has the highest rates in the world of severe wheeze in young teenagers.

Research has focused on how diet and environment early in life might affect a childs chances of developing the disease. A team of scientists from Finland studied almost 1,300 children whose parents took part in a diet and lifestyle study between 1996 and 2000. They wanted to see if certain foods either raised the risk of asthma and hay fever, or reduced them. Each family recorded infant feeding patterns from an early age and the children were then followed up for at least five years.

The results, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed babies fed porridge in their first few months of life were 64 per cent less likely to have chest problems as a toddler than those who did not eat it or started later. The same team also found babies fed fish at an early age had much lower rates of hay fever by the time they were five years old.

In a report on their findings, the researchers said: "Oats are a commonly used cereal in Finland, as porridge and bread. Animal and cell experiments suggest oats may affect the immune system and have anti-inflammatory properties. "The same is true for fish. Our findings imply that delaying the introduction of oats in infancy may increase the risk of asthma by the age of five in some children."

Porridge has enjoyed something of a revival as a health food in recent years. Some studies suggest a medium-sized bowl each morning can reduce cholesterol by about ten per cent.


It’s not breast-milk that makes babies brainier. It’s clever mothers

Wow! I almost feel that someone has been listening to me

Breastfed babies are smarter because their mothers are clever, not because of the nutritional benefits of breast milk, a study suggests. Previous trials have shown that infants fed on formula milk tend to have lower intelligence and the IQ difference has frequently been put down to a deficit of an omega 3 fatty acid, known as DHA, that is normally found in lower concentrations in formula milk.

However, scientists at the Univerisity of Southampton, found no evidence of a link between intelligence and breastfeeding once the mother’s social class and IQ were taken into account.

Dr Catharine Gale, from the University’s MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, who led the study said: “This study helps to dispel some of the myths surrounding DHA. We do know that there are clear health benefits to breast feeding but DHA, which is naturally present in breast milk and added into some formulas, is not the secret ingredient that will turn your child into an Einstein.”

The link between DHA and intelligence was first proposed after studies showing that when animals were deprived of DHA during infancy they showed abnormal neuronal development. However, trials in babies have given conflicting results.

"There’s been a quite inconsistent picture on the link between breastfeeding and intelligence,” said co-author Sian Robinson. According to Dr Robinson, breastfed children have tended to score more highly on intelligence tests since the earliest studies in the 1920s, but they also tend to come from more privileged backgrounds. In the UK 76 per cent of mothers breastfeed initially, but only about 50 per cent continue to breastfeed beyond six weeks.

The researchers analysed data from 241 children and their mothers in the UK, dividing the babies into three groups — breastfed, those fed with formulas fortified with MHA and those fed unfortified formulas.

A detailed history of the babies’ feeding routines was kept and a variety of IQ tests were carried out at the age of four including measures of verbal abilities and attention span. IQ tests at the age of four are strongly predictive of social and professional attainments later in life. In addition, the mothers took an IQ test and gave details of their social class and the baby’s weight at birth.

The breastfed babies performed significantly better than those given unfortified milk. But once the impact of social class and inherited IQ were taken in to account, breastfeeding appeared to have no affect on intelligence.

Since the babies given fortified milk were fed with a number of brands, with a range of concentrations of MHA, the researchers also looked for a direct correlation between total MHA intake and IQ at the age of four, but again found no link. “Factors in the home, such as the mother’s intelligence and what mental stimulation children receive, were the most important influences on their IQ,” said Dr Gale.

However, the researchers said that other health benefits from breastfeeding remain compelling and they support the NHS recommendation to breastfeed babies up until the age of six months. “We’d absolutely stand by that guidance,” said Dr Robinson.

Dr Michael Kramer, a paediatrician at McGill University in Montreal, said that there was a growing consensus that purported links between DHA and IQ had been overplayed. “Some people would still argue that there’s a link, but it’s in the face of very convincing evidence to the contrary,” he said.

However, he said that the latest research did not definitively rule out there being a small effect of breastfeeding on cognitive development. “The physical act itself can encourage emotional bonding between the mother and baby, which could foster healthy development. It could also be that breastfeeding takes longer so those mothers talk to their children more,” he said. [He's good at speculation]


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