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Breastfeeding beats diarrhoea

25th May 2010

Mothers who breastfeed their babies for at least the first six months of life are also protecting their children against shigella, a severe form of diarrhoea, according to a recent Bangladeshi study.

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The disease is very deadly, and is a leading cause of infant mortality in many countries.

Shigella is caused by Shigella flexneri, a bacterium that is closely related to both E coli and Salmonella, and is found only in humans and apes.

Over time, the disease causes the destruction of the digestive system's epithelial cells, or lining.

Study author Mohammed Zobayer Chisti, an assistant researcher from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh, said that stopping breastfeeding for newborns had long-term consequences.
 
He said that newborn children who had proper breastfeeding were more likely to have shigella resistance than children who did not.

For the study, the research team studied 22,242 children over a nine-year period.

Of the original 22,242 children, 1,132 already had shigella infections when the study began.

After the first part of the study was over, the researchers decided to focus especially on 759 children with a wide age range, from 0 to 15 years.

Children who have shigella infections typically experience seizures, brain changes, growth stunting, and death.

The research team found that children who were not properly breastfed as newborns were 40% more likely to develop the brain changes, or encephalopathy, that are associated with shigella infections.

Chisti said that he believed the reason why children who were not breastfed suffered so much had to do with levels of vitamin A, which helped children build resistance to the disease.

Children who lack vitamin A also sometimes end up having lower levels of retinol in their liver, which can hasten the progress of shigella.

The World Health Organisation recommends that infants always be breastfed for the first six months of life.

About 60% of shigella cases are found in children, with 99% of all shigella cases occurring in developing countries.

 

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