The lining of a newborn's intestine is particularly vulnerable to damage as it has never been exposed to food or drink. The researchers found small amounts of PSTI in all the samples of breast milk they tested but it was seven times more concentrated in colostrum samples. The ingredient was not found in formula milk.
The researchers examined the effects of PSTI on human intestinal cells in the lab. When they inflicted damage to the cells they found that PSTI stimulated the cells to move across the damaged area forming a natural protective cover. They also found that PSTI had the potential to prevent further damage by stopping the cells of the intestine from self-destructing. Additional research suggests that PSTI could reduce damage by 75 percent.
PSTI is a molecule that is normally found in the pancreas where it protects the organ from being damaged by the digestive enzymes it creates. Research suggests that it plays a similar protective role in the intestines.
The team at Queen Mary have also found that PSTI is produced in the breast but, until now, they did not know exactly why. Professor Ray Playford of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of London led the study. He said, "We know that breast milk is made up of a host of different ingredients and we also know that there are a number of health benefits for babies who are breast-fed.
"This study is important because it shows that a component of breast milk protects and repairs the babies’ delicate intestines in readiness for the onslaught of all the food and drink that are to come. It reinforces the benefits of breast feeding, especially in the first few days after birth."