Breast milk to treat adult diseases?

Published: Apr. 4, 2019 at 3:14 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Human breast milk is full of complex sugars that help build babies' immune systems. But researchers now believe those compounds may help adults with Crohn's disease, arthritis, even autism, and they may be the key to prevention someday.

When Sharon Young heard scientists were collecting breast milk for health research, she was all in. She was breastfeeding her daughter at the time.

"I wanted to learn more, first and foremost scientifically, about human oligosaccharides for research in general," she said. "But I wanted to contribute also as a mom."

At University of California San Diego Health Sciences, researchers are working to isolate small amounts of human milk oligosaccharides, or HMOs, in donated breast milk.

Dr. Sara Moukarcel and professor Lars Bode say the synthesized molecules will then be used to fight immune disorders, viral and bacterial pathogens, and chronic inflammation in animal and cell cultures.

"We're making a lot of parallels from infant nutrition up to adulthood and trying to find what ways where we can use the compounds to treat adult disorders," Moukarzel said.

She foresees recreating the HMOs in powder form in the lab, making it easy to take as a pill or in a drink.

"The scientific challenge is to identify which HMOs or sets of HMOs are appropriate for specific disease conditions," Moukarzel said.

Moukarzel says since the HMOs are safe for babies, they should be safe for adults. That should shorten the human testing phase and get to the public sooner.

Moukarzel believes the HMOs could be out of trials and available in about five years. Some of the conditions they could treat include obesity, Crohn's disease, cardiovascular disease, even outbreaks of bacterial infections like norovirus.




REPORT: MB #4560

BACKGROUND: Arthritis affects one in five adults in the U.S. along with 300,000 children. The number of people who get arthritis may be over 78 million by 2040. It is the number one cause of disability in the country. It mostly affects those in the working class. Another 780,000 Americans deal with some form of Crohn's disease. The disease is common among those ages 15 to 35. Both can be caused by poor diet or even stress, and they can be passed down from other family. They have many differences when it comes to testing, diagnosing, side effects and further treatments, but one more thing they might have in common is being treated by breastmilk. (Source: )

BENEFITS OF BREASTMILK: Breast milk has a lot of health benefits for babies. It provides a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome, leukemia and asthma. Breast milk decrease the number of infections and hospitalizations. The milk also helps a baby's brain and nervous system grow. It can prevent obesity, which is a big cause of arthritis. The nutrients in breast milk are also easily absorbed by babies, and it provides sugar and protein, which has been studied to help adults. (Source:,P02636)

NEW RESEARCH: Studies into breast milk helping adults began in Sweden. Researchers isolated a protein in the milk, and it was killing cancer cells. They redid the study in 2004 and found another compound that destroyed skin warts. They are currently working on a drug to help use that protein to their advantage. From there, Dr. Howard Cohen conducted a study on himself by putting breast milk into his smoothies twice a week, and he saw his prostate cancer begin to go into remission. Now researchers at the UC San Diego believe it can help with Arthritis and Crohn's disease. The main focus is HMOs, or human milk oligosaccharides. Dr. Sara Moukazel says they believe that if HMOs are safe for babies they should be safe for adults as well. The team is hoping to recreate the milk with bioengineering instead of using human milk. They have learned also that HMOs can reduce inflammation, which is a result of Crohn's disease. Some of the studies are still at the cell structure stage but others have moved to animal studies. (Source: