The say "Breast Is Best," when it comes to nursing your baby. That being said, research has discovered that breast milk not only helps keep babies healthy, but it could also pose as a miracle cure for adult illnesses as well.
Experts have conducted numerous of studies using breast milk as a treatment for conditions such as cancer, diarrhea and diabetes. Research has also shown on how breast-fed babies have a reduced risk of many adult illnesses, including cancer. But cancer is not the only focus of breast milk research. Below are summaries of medical breakthrough studies which are linked to the benefits of breast milk:
DIABETES & PARKINSON'S
Breast milk could be a new, and easier, source of stem cells. Stem cells are one of the most exciting discoveries in medicine, thanks to their remarkable ability to develop into many different cell types in the body, serving as a sort of internal repair system.
Stem cells are already being used to treat leukaemia and could soon help treat eye conditions.
Scientists are also researching their potential in the longer term for treating conditions such as spinal injuries, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.
A molecular biologist at Perth University, Australia, has discovered stem cells in breast milk.
Dr Mark Cregan and his team cultured the cells of human breast milk and found the result was positive for a stem cell marker called nestin.
'These cells have all the physical characteristics of stem cells,' he says. 'What we will do next is to see if they behave like stem cells.'
If so, this promises to provide researchers with an ethical and easier means of harvesting stem cells for researching treatments. Indeed, Dr Cregan believes this development could be possible within five years.
Chronic diarrhoea kills up to 2.2 million people worldwide every year, mostly children in developing countries. Scientists are looking at whether breast milk could help treat it.
One approach is based on indigestible sugars known as oligosaccharides, many of which occur only in human milk. These sugars protect a baby from pathogens to which the mother has never been exposed.
It's thought oligosaccharides might be used to boost elderly people's weakened natural protection against pathogens. They could also be used after a course of strong antibiotics by helping re-colonise the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria.
So far, scientists have been able to genetically engineer mice to produce oligosaccharides in their milk and are working on bioengineering bacteria to produce human oligosaccharides to put into baby formula milk (to protect bottle-fed babies) or as supplements for adults.
Other compounds found in breast milk, called lysozyme and lactoferrin, have been tested on children with diarrhoea and have been shown to not only be an effective treatment, but to offer some sort of protection against future bouts. ARTHRITIS
Breast milk contains lactoferrin, which helps prevent babies' immune systems from overreacting.
This is being looked as a potential treatment for auto-immune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and septic shock. DEMENTIA
In Italy, studies are under way to see if a breast milk molecule called glyerophosphocholine (GPC) can improve mental function in people with dementia or victims of stroke and traumatic brain injury.
In many separate trials, GPC appears to improve memory, attention and orientation in people with various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's.
It works like a brain nutrient, feeding the most energetically needy cells of our body, such as the brain cells. ACNE
A science student at the University of California recently discovered that the lauric acid in breast milk reduces irritation and spots, and has developed an acne cream that is undergoing clinical trials.
The cream uses tiny gold particles to carry lauric acid into pores where its anti-microbial properties fight bacteria.
As breast milk is difficult to source, researchers are working to develop new sources for its healthgiving compounds.
The compounds lysozyme and lactoferrin are harvested for research from a specific variety of rice, and the milk from genetically engineered goats and cows.
Though some of these beneficial compounds are found in milk from other animals, others occur only in human milk, and the nonhuman versions are less potent when given to humans.
Breast milk has a long history in healthcare. The ancient Egyptians used it as a medicine, blending it with honey. And in the Sixties, Albert Sabin, inventor of the oral polio vaccine, conducted a study that showed mice recovered from polio when fed human breast milk.
Today, some patients suffering from immunological diseases - such as HIV, leukaemia or hepatitis - or those receiving therapy that reduces the immune system, such as chemotherapy, have drunk breast milk in the hope that it can help adults, just as it helps sick babies.
It has also been taken by cancer patients who claim it slows the progression of the disease.
In the U.S., some milk banks provide it to adults. However, the benefits of drinking breast milk are unproven, and scientists maintain any beneficial effect may have more to do with placebo.
While British milk banks do sometimes receive requests to supply milk for adults, they are not able to provide it, says Gillian Weaver of the UK Association of Milk Banking.
'This is partly because of a lack of clinical evidence of benefit, but also because milk banks are not funded or organised on a scale in which they could provide it,' she says.
There is also understandable concern about diverting breast milk from needy babies.