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10 Toughest Terms on Nutrition and Development for Breastfeeding

Books on nutrition and development with apple
You already know how strongly I feel about the importance of knowing terminology. Unless you know the meaning of a word, you cannot possibly know its clinical significance, or what to do about it. Certainly, that includes terms on nutrition and development.

My Lactation Exam Review course manual has a list of more than 100 terms listed at the end of my Nutrition and Development section. I just finished teaching the live course in two cities, and I noticed that these 10 nutrition and development terms were the most likely to flummox attendees.

1. Adiponectin

Adiponectin is a secretory protein hormone involved in glucose regulation and fatty-acid breakdown. It is in human milk, however its role in infant weight gain is not well understood.

2. Epigenetics

Often, I hear people say, “Epige-WHAT?” From the word “genesis,” the word “genetics” means beginning or growth.

Epigenetics is the study of how gene expression is turned on and off. Meaning, gene expression can be active, or silent. What does this have to do with nutrition and human milk? Be sure to hear expert pediatrician and breastfeeding advocate, Dr. Jennifer Thomas talk about that. The episode is fascinating!

3. Ghrelin

Ghrelin is a peptide hormone released by the stomach and small intestine. It is also in human milk. It stimulates appetite, increases food intake, and promotes fat storage. It’s sometimes called the hunger hormone. I try to remember that when I’m hungry, I’m gr- gr- grouchy, because ghrelin is at work!

Along with adiponectin and leptin, ghrelin in human milk is helps to regulate the growth and development of infants.

4. Glycans

Glycans are simple and complex carbohydrates found in human milk, and deflect pathogens and modulate immunity in the infant.

5. Growth factors

Humans have several types of these growth factors. They contribute to cell differentiation, proliferation, growth, and repair. One that is particularly important for infants is epidermal growth factor.

6. Gut closure

The human infant is born with very tiny openings between cells in the gut. While open, desirable (nutrient and protective) components as well as undesirable organisms (e.g., pathogens) can pass from the gut into the general circulation. Gut closure occurs when the openings knit together. Gut closure occurs sooner in breastfed infants than in formula-fed infants, and is another nutrition and development term you should be familiar with.

7. Leptin

Leptin is a peptide hormone in human milk that regulates food intake and metabolism. Not well understood in infants, this hormone appears to partially explain infants’ ability to self-regulate intake.

8. Microbiome, microbiota

Each person harbors trillions of microbial cells.

Although some use the term microbiome and microbiota interchangeably, others make a distinction that microbiome refers to any microbial cell (bacteria, fungi, etc.) whereas microbiota refers to microorganisms that inhabit a specific location, e.g., the gut.

There’s more to be said where it comes to defining the microbiome. But what does it have to do with breastfeeding? A lot, really!  Several factors (including birthing near the anus and being breastfed) affect the microbiome. Ideally, the gut will have more friendly bacteria, and fewer pathogenic bacteria, which breastfeeding fosters.

9. Obestatin

Obestatin is a peptide hormone that seems to suppress hunger. Its role is very controversial. One fact is for sure, though, obestatin is in colostrum and mature milk. One of these days, hopefully research will tell us much more.

10. Resistin

Resistin is a peptide hormone fat cells secret. Similarly to several other gut hormones, it, too, is present in human milk. It may control fetal growth rate, and aid in the infant’s metabolic development.

Having trouble wading through all of this seemingly foreign language? Me, too! This isn’t easy. Above all, anything you can do to remember words — mnemonics are great — can help you on the exam.

Are you having trouble navigating the nutrition and development terms? What have you found helpful for remembering unfamiliar terms? Please share in the comments below.

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