Breast milk may offer potential protective effects against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto and its partner hospitals. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed breast milk samples from three different groups: individuals who had contracted COVID-19 while pregnant or nursing, routine milk bank donors, and individuals who had received the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant or nursing.
The researchers discovered that approximately 50% of individuals in the COVID-19 positive group had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in their breast milk. In contrast, less than 5% of routine milk bank donors, who had no known exposure to the virus, had these antibodies. Among the vaccinated group, individuals who had received the Moderna vaccine had higher levels of antibodies compared to those who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Interestingly, individuals who had shorter intervals between their first and second vaccine doses also had higher antibody levels.
Samantha Ismail, the study’s first author, expressed surprise at these findings, noting that in blood serum, longer intervals between vaccine doses typically result in higher antibody levels. This suggests that there may be unique factors at play within the lactating population.
The researchers went a step further and tested breast milk samples in a laboratory setting to determine if they could prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection. They found that milk containing antibodies against the virus had a higher likelihood of neutralizing it. Additionally, immunization with the Moderna vaccine was associated with a stronger neutralizing capacity than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
In addition to antibodies, the researchers discovered that a small but significant number of breast milk samples were able to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection even in the absence of detectable levels of antibodies. This suggests that there may be other active components in breast milk that combat the virus.
These findings offer reassurance to pregnant individuals and new parents who may have had concerns about the potential impact of COVID-19 on their pregnancies and infants. Breast milk, with its ability to generate antibodies that can neutralize the virus, may provide a form of protection against SARS-CoV-2.
Further research will be needed to better understand the mechanisms by which breast milk confers protection against the virus. However, these findings highlight the potential benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of further studying the role of breast milk in combating COVID-19.
Moving forward, it will be essential to continue investigating the potential protective effects of breast milk against SARS-CoV-2 to ensure that this valuable resource can be utilized effectively for the health and well-being of infants and lactating individuals.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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