Infants who are genetically predisposed to asthma may find relief from respiratory symptoms if they are breastfed. This, according to a study presented Sept. 4 at the European Respiratory Society's International Congress.

Genes associated with asthma risk are called 17q21. According to an earlier study, children in possession of gene variants of the 17q21 chromosome are likelier to develop wheezing, in combination with exposure to certain environmental factors.

The environment has long been known to affect genetic risk so the researchers wanted to know whether this would apply as well where asthma and breastfeeding are involved, specifically if respiratory symptoms will manifest in early infancy.

To find out, Dr. Olga Gorlanova and colleagues turned to Switzerland's Basel-Bern Infant Lung Development birth cohort, where they gathered information on the presence of the 17q21 gene, severity and frequency of respiratory symptoms and breastfeeding status from 368 infants.

Based on their findings, the researchers saw that when infants were breastfed, those with high asthma risk were 27 percent less likely to develop respiratory symptoms. When the same infants were not breastfed, they exhibited higher risks of developing respiratory symptoms.

"As research in this field progresses, we are understanding more and more about the gene-environment interaction for the development of asthma," said Gorlanova, adding their study, for one, sheds light on how the interaction is affected by breastfeeding status.

This is the first time that researchers were able to show that infants with 17q21 gene variants can differ on frequency and severity of respiratory symptoms depending on whether or not they are being breastfed.

Another way breastfeeding affects infant health is that it can help protect against meningitis-causing bacteria Group B streptococcus when a particular sugar called lacto-n-difucohexaose I is present in breast milk.

According to a study published in Clinical & Translational Immunology, the breast milk sugar is formed in women who have the Lewis antigen system and helps in flushing out Group B streptococcus while promoting the growth of good bacteria in a baby's gut.

"Although this is early-stage research, it demonstrates the complexity of breast milk, and the benefits it may have for the baby," said Nicholas Andreas, the study's lead author.

Newborns breastfed within the first hour of their life are also likelier to have lower death risk as they are provided with vital nutrients and antibodies, according to another research.

In older children, a different study has found that using acetaminophen, like Tylenol, does not worsen asthma symptoms. This makes the drug safe for children between 1 and 5 years old to take when pain or fever relief is needed.

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