Breast milk sugar boosts brain development

Breast milk nutrient enhances neuronal connectivity.


A groundbreaking study has revealed the identification of a sugar molecule in breast milk that plays a vital role in promoting the development of infants’ brains. This significant finding has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of early brain development and contribute to the optimization of infant nutrition.

Researchers, led by Thomas Biederer, Ph.D., at Yale University, have made a remarkable discovery regarding the impact of micronutrients on the brain. Previous studies had established the cognitive benefits of breast milk for infants, but the specific reasons remained elusive.

Biederer and his team collaborated with Mead Johnson Nutrition/Reckitt to analyze milk samples from mothers in different locations. Their goal was to identify micronutrients that were consistently present and changed throughout lactation, irrespective of diet, race, or location. This investigation aimed to shed light on the bioactive compounds in breast milk crucial for infant brain development.

The research team observed that myoinositol, a sugar molecule, was consistently present in high concentrations in all breast milk samples initially and gradually decreased over lactation. Notably, this temporal pattern was identical across the three study locations. Thomas Biederer remarked that the mother tightly regulated the levels of this molecule. Intrigued by this finding, the researchers conducted further investigations to explore the impact of Myo-inositol on brain development.

Through experiments with cultured human neurons and brain tissue, they discovered that Myo-inositol increased synapse abundance and enhanced neuronal connectivity. Biederer emphasized the importance of recognizing breast milk’s complexity, stating that it is not merely a source of calories but a rich and intricate biofluid. The composition of breast milk adapts to meet the infant’s specific developmental needs at different stages.

These findings have significant implications for pediatric nutrition recommendations, providing valuable insights for dietary guidelines. Thomas Biederer emphasizes the importance of supporting breastfeeding mothers through policies, as this would have broader societal benefits.

The study primarily focuses on forming brain connections during the early months after birth, a crucial developmental stage. Biederer also desires to investigate how breast milk supports infants during the subsequent connection refinement and optimization phase. He highlights the critical role of refinement in establishing appropriate patterns within the brain. He suggests that studying this stage is equally important as studying initial connection formation.

Biederer said, “Studying this stage will be as important, if not more important, than studying the initial formation of connections.”

In conclusion, the study has identified Myo-inositol as a critical sugar molecule in breast milk that promotes neuronal connectivity. The findings underscore the importance of breastfeeding and highlight the complexity of breast milk’s composition. The study’s insights can inform dietary recommendations for pediatric nutrition and emphasize the need for supportive policies for breastfeeding mothers to benefit individual infants and society. Further research will delve into the later stages of brain development to uncover additional mechanisms through which breast milk supports optimal neural connectivity.

Journal Reference:

  1. Andrew F. Paquette, Beatrice E. Carbone, Seth Vogel, et al. The human milk component Myo-inositol promotes neuronal connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.DOI:10.1073/pnas.2221413120.


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