Author(s): Cuthbertson WF
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Abstract Homo sapiens has developed during the course of over two million years. The social and physical conditions of life, the availability of milk and infant foods as well as the presence of diseases have all undergone radical transformations from the Stone Age, at first without and then with fire, to the hunter-gatherer, farmer-herder, agricultural and, now, developed societies. These changes in the human environment may have induced modifications in the length of pregnancy, the development of the neonate at birth, the duration of lactation, the composition of breast milk and use of weaning foods and milk substitutes. Darwinian selection for the nutrient, anti-infective and other components of breast milk may have been determined by the effects of nutrition, through genetic variations in milk composition, on the survival of infants and perhaps also on fecundity and disease resistance in later adult life. Today Darwinian selection may no longer be effective in maintaining or modifying human mammary function, because modern hygienic environments, together with the availability of nutritionally adequate breast-milk substitutes, permit infant survival even under conditions of total lactational failure. National and international promulgations strictly control the composition of infant formulas offered as breast-milk substitutes or as weaning foods. These recommendations are modified as beliefs suggest, and research indicates, the effects of nutrients and other factors on the health and well-being of the child. Preliminary observations on child health have often proved valuable in furthering research. Unquestioning acceptance of apparently desirable, but untested, epidemiological associations have led to unexpected but dangerous iatrogenic problems. Recommendations for change cannot safely be made without proper comparisons with present products and procedures under practical conditions. Such tests are time consuming and require protocols of appropriate statistical design and power while still meeting the required sociological and ethical constraints, but are essential to identify possible harmful effects of any proposed change. It is suggested that no novel ingredients should be added, or major changes permitted in any component, until appropriate trials have established the value and safety of the proposed modifications. Breast-feeding is vital to maximize infant survival in developing countries. There are major difficulties in assessing any differences in morbidity and mortality of breast-fed v. artificially reared infants in the developed world. Carefully controlled studies with comparisons of health and well-being, not only in infancy but throughout life, are desirable if the effects of infant nutrition on adult well-being, suggested by epidemiological studies, are to be validated and ultimately applied. There are considerable variations in the composition of breast milk. This variance suggests that it may ultimately be possible to design formulas better able to meet the needs of individual infants than the milk available from the mother's breast.
This article was published in Br J Nutr
and referenced in Journal of Microbial & Biochemical Technology