A mother's breast milk can help prevent or treat coronavirus in their babies, a new study by Chinese researchers has found.
Whey proteins from human breast milk can inhibit the coronavirus by "blocking viral attachment, entry and even post-entry viral replication", according to the team led by Professor Tong Yigang from the Beijing University of Chemical Technology.
The results published on biorxiv.org, a preprint site for biology studies, on Friday were based on testing the effects of human breast milk on cells exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
The cell types tested varied from animal kidney cells to young human lung and gut cells. The paper, however, has yet to be peer-reviewed.
While researchers found that whey proteins in cow and goat milk could also inhibit the coronavirus, they were less effective (about 70 per cent) as compared to human breast milk (nearly 100 per cent).
Furthermore, while killing the virus, the team said that they did not find any sign of harm caused by human milk which "promoted cell proliferation".
Although some health authorities have warned that breastfeeding could increase the risk of viral transmission, this new research lends support to the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines whereby mothers who are infected with coronavirus or suspected to be infected, are encouraged to continue breastfeeding their newborn babies.
Such was the case of 46 COVID-19 infected mothers (over several countries) who breastfed their children.
No evidence of infection was found, even though WHO detected viral genes in the breast milk of three mothers. And among the children, only one child had tested positive for the virus.
This leaves the global health body unable to rule out the possibility wherein the virus could have been transmitted through other ways.
While breast milk has been known to have suppressive effects on bacteria and viruses such as HIV, and now preventing coronavirus according to the Chinese researchers, results of increasing temperatures of the milk could show otherwise.
In the case of parents who take towards donated breast milk to feed their babies, the milk is often pasteurised (having to undergo heat treatment) in order to eliminate potential contamination and make it safe for consumption.
Doing so, however, could lead to reduced protection against the coronavirus said the researchers.
Upon heating the milk to 90 degrees for 10 minutes, they found that the whey protein was inactivated, leading to a 20 per cent drop in protection rate against the coronavirus.
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