31 July 2012

Breast Milk Cures Hiv?

Ask any breastfeeding mama and she’ll likely tell you all about the magic of breast milk. In fact, you may have a tough time getting her to stop touting the benefits. From that first tiny drop providing unmatched newborn nourishment to the unsurpassed, ongoing comfort, and from the soothing of scrapes, sunburns, and mosquito bites, to providing endless hours of fodder for passionate debate and conversation.

Just when you were wondering if there was anything that breast milk couldn’t do, the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine releases an eye-opening study which claims to have uncovered a link between human breast milk and interception of the oral transmission of HIV. As my two year old would say, “tah-dah!”

The study, conducted on genetically-altered mice at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Medical School, suggests that there are compounds found in human breast milk that destroy HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Study leader Dr. Victor Garcia, from the UNC, said, “This study provides significant insight into the amazing ability of breast milk to destroy HIV and prevent its transmission. No child should ever be infected with HIV because it is breastfed.  Breastfeeding provides critical nutrition and protection from other infections, especially where clean water for infant formula is scarce.” Dr. Garcia went on to add that, “understanding how HIV is transmitted to infants and children despite the protective effects of milk will help us close this important door to the spread of AIDS.”

The facts surrounding HIV when it comes to pediatric AIDS cases can be startling, so hold on tight: more than 15 percent of new HIV infections occur among children, some 400,000 in 2010 alone. Left untreated, only 65 percent of HIV infected babies survive until their first birthday, and fewer than 50 percent reach the age of two.

Despite repeated exposure over extended periods of time, most “at-risk” breastfed infants do not end up with HIV.  The tests on mice at UNC show that while some children do acquire HIV from breastfeeding, human breast milk does offer a unique and strong anti-viral effect.

Though it’s true that research conducted on animals does not necessarily equate to the same results in humans, scientists agree with the researchers who performed the UNC study and are optimistic that isolation of specific compounds in human breast milk could lead to new ways of  preventing the spread and transmission of HIV.

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