One of the greatest threats to the health of children is overweight and the obesity, which in Spain affects around 41% of boys and girls between 6 and 9 years old. In the world, more than 41 million of those under 5 years of age suffer from these disorders. In addition, obesity and childhood overweight are very important risk factors for the development of other chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases during adulthood.
Now, a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine reveals that supplementing the maternal diet with betaine while breastfeeding could decrease the risk of childhood obesity. It is a nutrient that is found in different foods such as whole grains, spinach, beets or quinoa, and is also naturally present in breast milk.
Experts from the Center for Biomedical Research on Obesity and Nutrition Network (CIBEROBN) have participated in the work, together with the Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute (IRSJD) and the Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona Hospital.
Betaine supplementation during breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing obesity and related diseases when they reach adulthood
“The gestational and postnatal periods define in an important way the susceptibility to develop chronic diseases in adulthood. In particular, the period of Breastfeeding it is a window of opportunity for nutritional interventions with the aim of reducing the risk of childhood obesity ”, he explains. Carles lerin, study coordinator and researcher at IRSJD.
The team analyzed breast milk samples from two different population groups, one from the United States and the other from the Valencian Community, verifying that a lower concentration of betaine in milk was associated with faster growth during the first months of life, which It is a risk factor for the development of childhood obesity.
To study whether supplementation of breast milk with betaine could improve the metabolic health of infants, a series of experiments were conducted in animal models and found that adding betaine only during lactation increased the content of this nutrient in milk and moderated the hatchling growth.
In addition, said supplementation also had long-term effects, since the pups showed a reduction in their adiposity and inflammation markers, as well as an improvement in glucose metabolism during adulthood.
David Sánchez-Infantes, first co-author of the study and researcher at CIBEROBN, affirms that there are factors that predispose to developing early obesity and can lead to long-term metabolic problems: the presence of obesity in the parents, sleep disturbances, an unhealthy lifestyle or socioeconomic status low: “Betaine supplementation during breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing obesity and related diseases when they reach adulthood.”
The role of the gut microbiota
The researchers also observed changes in the gut microbiota of the offspring, specifically an increase in the Akkermansia bacteria in those animals that had fed on milk supplemented with betaine.
Akkermansia is a bacterium present in the intestines and different studies have shown its beneficial effects in the context of obesity and metabolic disorders. The researchers found that the intestinal abundance of this bacterium in boys and girls was directly related to the betaine content in their mother’s milk.
The intestinal abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila in one-year-old boys and girls was directly related to the betaine content of their mothers’ milk.
María Carmen Collado, from the IATA-CSIC
“If we administered Akkermansia directly to the mouse pups during lactation, the long-term beneficial effects we obtained on obesity and health were similar to supplementing the maternal diet with betaine,” he says. Silvia Ribó, first co-signer of the study.
The results observed in animal models were also confirmed in the samples of the studied cohort. “The intestinal abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila in one-year-old boys and girls was directly related to the betaine content of their mothers’ milk,” says María. Carmen Collado, of the IATA-CSIC.
These studies open the door to future interventions during the first period of life, to deal with childhood overweight and obesity. The research group has already started a pilot clinical study to determine the beneficial effects of supplementing the maternal diet with betaine during lactation on both the growth curve of babies and their gut microbiota.
Ribo et al., Increasing breast milk betaine modulates Akkermansia abundance in mammalian neonates and improves long-term metabolic health. Sci. Transl. Med. 13, eabb0322 (2021)
Source: CIBEROBN, IRSJD
Rights: Creative Commons.