Does AMPK Help with Belly Fat?

Dayna Dye
AMPK serves as an energy-sensing switch that informs the cells when to store energy and generate energy-containing molecules such as fat, and when to break down existing energy stores
Does AMPK help with belly fat? The short answer: evidence indicates that it may help. For the long answer, read on. The dangers of excess belly fat and other adipose tissue could be reduced by increasing the activity of an enzyme known as AMPK.

What is AMPK?

AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) is an enzyme composed of three protein subunits that are produced by most cells in the body. It serves as an energy-sensing switch that informs the cells when to store energy and generate energy-containing molecules such as fat, and when to break down existing energy stores. AMPK signaling declines during aging.1

Chronic intake of too many calories can impair AMPK activity. AMPK activity declines under conditions of excessive caloric and carbohydrate intake. Conversely, caloric restriction increases AMPK activity.

How can we activate AMPK?

Calorie restriction, a life-extending practice that involves periodic fasting or consuming fewer calories, has been shown to activate AMPK.2 In turn, AMPK inhibits the activity of mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), an enzyme that represses autophagy (a process that eliminates damaged cells).3

While calorie restriction has the most widely studied and successful way to extend life in a variety of animal species, it requires long term commitment and a significant amount of self-discipline to work in humans.

However, specific nutrients have been identified that indirectly activate AMPK. Here’s a partial list:4-12

  • Gynostemma pentaphyllum (an herb)
  • Hesperidin
  • Rose hips, which contain the compound trans-tiliroside
  • Resveratrol
  • Quercetin
  • Genistein
  • Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)
  • Capsaicin (from red chilies)
  • Curcumin
  • Ginsenosides from Panax ginseng
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
AMPK activating herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum
Additionally, the biguanide antidiabetic drug metformin, which is a synthetic derivative of the plant Galega officinalis, and thiazolidinediones, another class of insulin-sensitizing drugs, are indirect AMPK activators.13,14

Direct AMPK activators include lesser known compounds that are not as readily available, with the exception of salicylate, a compound derived from willow bark from which aspirin is derived.15

Does increased AMPK activity reduce abdominal fat?

Any agent or regimen that reduces body fat in general will also reduce fat around the abdominal area.

A study of morbidly obese people found lower AMPK activity in visceral fat that surrounds the abdominal organs compared to subcutaneous abdominal fat tissue that resides under the skin, and that inflammatory gene expression was higher in visceral fat tissue.16 An even greater association existed among insulin resistant subjects.

In a trial that involved 75 men and women with a high body mass index, supplementation with the AMPK activator hesperidin with or without caffeine for 12 weeks resulted in decreases in visceral fat area, subcutaneous fat area and their sum total abdominal fat area, while the placebo group experienced gains. Subcutaneous abdominal fat was reduced to a greater extent than visceral fat, which is more closely associated with metabolic disease. However, the authors noted that “Visceral adipose tissue has been proposed to mediate obesity-related unfavorable levels of insulin, glucose and lipids, but subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue has been shown to be an independent risk factor for the metabolic complications of obesity.”17

Animal research has confirmed that the administration of AMPK activators, including green tea, the diabetes drug liraglutide, dioscin from wild yam, and resveratrol decreased abdominal fat.18-21

Cushing’s syndrome occurs when people are exposed to high amounts of the hormone cortisol for prolonged periods and can be the result of excessive cortisol production by the adrenal glands or the use of corticosteroid drugs. Characteristics of Cushing’s syndrome include abdominal obesity accompanied by insulin resistance and abnormal lipid levels. A study involving Cushing syndrome patients who had adrenal gland surgery revealed 70% lower AMPK activity in visceral adipose tissue in comparison with a group of matched control patients with adrenal tumors that were not associated with excess cortisol release and another group of control patients. “Our recent data in human adipocytes show that metformin reverses the inhibitory effects of corticosteroids on AMPK, suggesting that metformin and glucocorticoids influence the AMPK signaling pathway in opposite ways and that metformin is able to override the effect of glucocorticoids on this enzyme,” writes Blerina Kola and colleagues of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. “This suggests that metformin or novel tissue-specific AMPK activators could be beneficial in the prevention or treatment of the deleterious metabolic consequences, especially the accumulation of the disadvantageous visceral adipose tissue, in patients with endogenous or iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome.”22

While these studies indicate that AMPK has specific effects on abdominal fat, a clinical trial that involved 80 obese subjects provided further evidence. Participants who received an extract of the AMPK activating herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum for 12 weeks lost an average of 20.9 square cm in total abdominal fat area in comparison with a loss of 2.87 square cm in the placebo group. Visceral abdominal fat loss was greater than subcutaneous fat loss.23

The Bottom Line

For those who have noticed an increase in stubborn abdominal fat over the years, the addition of an AMPK-activating compound to a healthy eating regimen may be worth a trial. These compounds have other positive health effects that will make their inclusion in a nutritional supplement program of value to the entire body for years to come.

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.


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Could Beta-Glucan Supplementation Fight Respiratory Viruses?

Dayna Dye

Preclinical and human research has found a benefit for beta-glucans against flu symptoms.It’s hard to avoid exposure to influenza and other respiratory viruses, which emphasizes the importance of a healthy immune system. A nutritious diet, consisting of a balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats, plenty of plant foods and low amounts of added sugar can help. Beta-glucans have a variety of positive health effects when consumed, the most prominent being that of supporting immune function. Several foods contain beta-glucans; however, these foods aren’t always consumed on a regular basis. To help boost the immune system year-round, many people rely on beta-glucan supplements to help prevent the flu or to treat its symptoms.

What are Beta-Glucans?

Beta-glucans are carbohydrate molecules known as polysaccharides that exist in the cell wall of some foods. Beta-glucans from different sources vary in their molecular structure. Hence, the difference in their nomenclature, i.e., (1,3) (1,4) (1,6) glucans.

Research: Using Beta-Glucans to Treat Flu Symptoms

Preclinical and human research has found a benefit for beta-glucans against flu symptoms. In mice, oral administration of alpha and beta-glucans derived from maitake, shiitake, reishi, agaricus and chaga mushrooms for two weeks improved outcomes following H5N1 influenza infection. The researchers concluded that the better outcomes among mice that received the beta-glucan mixtures were due to enhanced cellular and humoral immune responses, which resulted in a lower viral load.1 Twelve days after being infected, all of the mice that did not receive glucans had died, yet 60% of treated mice were alive. Treated animals also showed less temperature elevation and weight loss compared with the control group of animals.

In another mouse study, a variety of algae (Euglena gracilis Z) or its component beta glucan were given to mice for two weeks after which the animals were infected with influenza. A control group of infected mice received no additional treatment. Both treated groups had higher survival rates and lower virus titers in the lungs. The authors suggest that the microalgae and the beta-glucan it contains “can eliminate the influenza virus via the activity of beta-1, 3-glucans on dendritic cells and induction of CD8+ T cells and/or natural killer cells.”2

In piglets infected with swine flu, beta-glucan derived from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae decreased pulmonary lesions and viral replication rate compared with infected animals that received a control substance.3 “These findings support the potential application of beta-glucan as prophylactic/treatment agent in influenza virus infection,” the authors of the report concluded.

Human Studies with Beta-Glucans and Respiratory Infections

The effects of stress on immune function are well known. In a study of women who experienced moderate psychological stress levels, daily supplementation with Saccharomyces cerevisiae-derived beta-glucan for 12 weeks was associated with fewer upper respiratory tract symptoms along with improved overall well-being and energy levels in comparison with a placebo.4 In men and women undergoing intense exercise stress, supplementation with beta-glucan derived from Saccharomyces cerevisiae was associated with a 37% reduction in the number of days during which cold or flu symptoms were reported compared to a placebo.5

A randomized, double-blind trial compared the effects of 90 days of supplementation with beta-glucan (from Saccharomyces cerevisiae) with the effects of a placebo. Days spent with upper respiratory tract infections symptoms were fewer and ability to breathe easily was greater among those who received beta-glucan.6 Another trial that compared 16 weeks of 900 milligrams daily of beta-glucan (from Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to a placebo in men and women with frequent upper respiratory tract infections resulted in a decrease in severity of physical upper respiratory tract infection symptoms, and improvements in mood and blood pressure among those who received the supplement.7

Beta-Glucan Benefits

Beta-glucans have a number of diverse health effects including:8

  • immunostimulatory
  • anti-inflammatory
  • anti-microbial
  • anti-infective
  • anti-viral
  • anti-tumor
  • antioxidant
  • anti-coagulant
  • cholesterol-lowering
  • radioprotective
  • wound healing
Notice that the top six effects on the list all involve immune support, which may be beta-glucans’ best-known benefit.

In a 2007 review, European researchers noted that the healing and immunostimulatory properties of certain mushrooms have been known for thousands of years and that these mushrooms contain beta-glucans.9 Beta-glucans improve host immune defense by activating part of the innate immune system known as the complement system, and enhancing macrophage and natural killer cell function. They protect against the initiation of tumors by carcinogens and can also inhibit tumor growth and metastasis.

The immune-supportive benefits of beta-glucans derived from Saccharomyces cerevisiae was validated by a clinical trial conducted in Germany which found a 25% reduction in the risk of acquiring a common cold and better sleep during cold episodes among participants who received beta-glucan in comparison with a placebo. “This is in line with a recently published trial demonstrating the prophylactic effect of the same yeast (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-glucan preparation on the incidence and severity of common cold infections,” the authors of the report wrote. “Since the susceptibility to get a common cold is closely related to the body’s immune status, both studies independently suggest the potential of yeast (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-glucan to stimulate the host immune system in order to provide defense against common cold viral attacks.”10

Beta-Glucan Foods

Beta-glucans are found in:

  • whole grains (oats, barley, wheat)
  • mushrooms (oyster, reishi, maitake, shiitake and more)
  • yeast (baker’s, brewer’s)
  • seaweeds
  • algae
  • bacteria11
Beta-glucans in food whole grains

Beta-glucans in food mushrooms

Beta-glucans in food yeast

Beta-Glucan Side Effects

The use of beta-glucans supplements appears to be safe. Due to the beneficial effect of beta-glucans in lowering blood glucose among diabetics, it has been suggested that individuals being treated for diabetes or who have hypoglycemia be aware of this potential effect.12

It has been noted that specific glucan preparations have received Generally Recognized as Safe status and have been accepted as novel food ingredients by the European Food Safety Authority.13 An evaluation of the potential toxicity of varying doses of beta glucans in rats found no adverse effects on general condition and behavior, growth, feed and water consumption, red blood cell and clotting factors, clinical chemistry values, organ weights and other changes to any organ evaluated after 28 days. “Results of this study demonstrated that consumption of concentrated barley beta-glucan was not associated with any obvious signs of toxicity in Wistar rats even following consumption of large quantities,” the authors of the report concluded.14

Trials of beta-glucan in elderly participants and in infants resulted in no adverse effects.15,16

Beta-Glucan Dosage

Doses used in trials vary widely, from weekly milligram increments to daily amounts of several grams. As a reasonable daily health maintenance dose, 100 to 600 milligrams per day of beta-glucan may be all that’s needed. One’s health care provider may consider higher doses in the event of active flu or other upper respiratory infections.

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.


  1. Vetvicka V et al. Ann Transl Med. 2015 Feb;3(2):22.
  2. Nakashima A et al. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2017 Dec 9;494(1-2):379-383.
  3. Jung K et al. J Vet Med B Infect Dis Vet Public Health. 2004 Mar;51(2):72-6.
  4. Talbott SM et al. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012 Aug;31(4):295-300.
  5. McFarlin BK et al. J Diet Suppl. 2013 Sep;10(3):171-83.
  6. Fuller R et al. Nutrition. 2012 Jun;28(6):665-9.
  7. Dharsono T et al. J Am Coll Nutr. 2019 Jan;38(1):40-50.
  8. Yuan H et al. Molecules. 2019 Dec 23;25(1):57.
  9. Akramienė D et al. Medicina (Kaunas). 2007;43(8):597-606.
  10. Auinger A et al. Eur J Nutr. 2013 Dec;52(8):1913-8.
  11. Du B et al. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Aug 18;20(16).
  12. Francelino Andrade E et al. Nutr Hosp. 2014 Jan 1;31(1):170-7.
  13. Samuelsen AB et al. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014 Jan;58(1):183-93.
  14. Delaney B et al. Food Chem Toxicol. 2003 Apr;41(4):477-87.
  15. Gaullier JM et al. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2011;13(4):319-26.
  16. Baldassarre ME et al. Heliyon. 2020 Apr 21:e03814.

Is Maqui Berry Good for Dry Eyes?

Dayna Dye

Maqui Berry Aristotelia chilensis shows promise in helping to relieve dry eyesMaqui (Aristotelia chilensis) is a darkly pigmented Chilean berry that is showing promise in helping to relieve dry eyes.

Maqui and other berries have been harvested by the native populations of southern Chile and Argentina for more than 14,000 years and is currently known as a “super-fruit.”1,2 The berries contain an abundance of beneficial plant compounds known as anthocyanins and flavonols, as well as the phenol antioxidant ellagic acid.3

A recent review of the berry's potential benefits lists:

  • Protection against light-induced damage of photoreceptor cells
  • Inhibition of the enzymes alpha-glucosidase and pancreatic lipase (which digest starch and fat)
  • Anti-diabetic effects
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Analgesic effects
  • Protection against atherosclerosis
  • Promotion of hair growth
  • Protection against skin photoaging
  • Inhibition of lipid peroxidation4
Here's another property to add to the growing list: increased tear fluid production and relief from dry eye symptoms.5

Tear Production and Dry Eyes

Tear Production and Dry EyesMaqui's effect on the eyes was evaluated by researchers at Japan's Gifu Pharmaceutical University, who examined the ability of maqui extract and two of its major anthocyanins (delphinidins) to inhibit photoreceptor cell death induced by visible light.6 They found improved cell viability and reduced intracellular radical activation in association with maqui berry extract as well as with the separate delphinidin compounds. Members of the Japanese team subsequently investigated the effect of maqui on tear fluid generation. Utilizing a rat model of dry eye, they found that oral pre-treatment with maqui extract helped preserve tear secretion and suppressed free radical formation in lacrimal glands, with higher doses associated with a greater benefit.7

In a pilot trial, 13 participants with moderately dry eyes received 30 milligrams (mg) or 60 mg per day of maqui extract for 60 days.5 Tear fluid volume, evaluated at the beginning and end of the study, significantly increased in both groups by the conclusion of the treatment period. Dry Eye-Related Quality of Life Scores, which assess the impact of eye dryness on daily routines, improved over time in both groups.

Eye Fatigue

A randomized, double-blind trial compared the effects of four weeks of daily maqui extract (60 mg) to a placebo among 74 visual display terminal users between the ages of 30 and 60 years with symptoms of dry eye and eye fatigue.8 (Regular and prolonged use of visual display terminals is associated with eye strain and dry eye.) Eye dryness, eye fatigue, tear break-up time and other factors were assessed at the beginning and end of the trial. Those who received maqui berry had a greater amount of lacrimal fluid production in both eyes prior to a video display terminal load test in comparison with the placebo group. Eye fatigue and other symptoms were also reduced in association with maqui supplementation. The authors of the report noted that dry eye onset has been attributed to inflammation, caused by an increase in reactive oxygen species in the epithelial cells of the cornea that destabilizes the tear film layer, which suggests that maqui’s antioxidant components may be responsible for the positive effects revealed by the trial.

Antioxidant Support

An investigation of maqui’s properties in mouse immune cells revealed its ability to downregulate the expression of cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), which participates in the formation of inflammatory products.9 And in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 42 participants, consumption of maqui berry extract three times daily for four weeks was associated with a decrease in urinary F2-isoprostanes (a marker of oxidative stress) and oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.10

Research concerning the bioavailability of maqui berry extract revealed a significant increase in plasma levels of two selected anthocyanins with respective maximum concentrations occurring after one and two hours. “The results confirm a fast uptake and metabolism of the two selected key substances,” Christiane Schön and colleagues wrote. “The study clearly confirms the bioavailability of maqui berry extract and its specific anthocyanin compounds and related breakdown products in healthy subjects.”11

Preservatives in Eye Drops

The use of maqui could be a boon to those with dry eye who have had to rely upon eye drops that need to be administered throughout the day. While sometimes providing symptomatic relief, these drops can be initially irritating due to their preservatives. One potential concern is that some contain an ingredient known as tetrahydrozoline, which was associated with changes in corneal integrity in older analyses.12

The Bottom Line

Contact lens wearers, LASIK patients, individuals who spend hours in front of a computer monitor, those in arid or polluted environments, postmenopausal women or others who experience dry eyes may wish to try supplementing with maqui to relieve unpleasant dry eye symptoms. Life has enough irritating factors without irritated eyes.

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.


  1. Schmeda-Hirschmann G et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2019 Sep 15;241:111979.
  2. Chang SK et al. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(10):1580-1604.
  3. Genskowsky E et al. J Sci Food Agric. 2016 Sep;96(12):4235-42.
  4. Romanucci V. et al. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2016;17(6):513-23.
  5. Hitoe S et al. Panminerva Med. 2014 Sep;56(3 Suppl 1):1-6.
  6. Tanaka J et al. Food Chem. 2013 Aug 15;139(1-4):129-37.
  7. Nakamura S et al. J Funct Foods. 2014 Sep;10:346-54.
  8. Yamashita SI et al. J Tradit Complement Med. 2018 Nov 22;9(3):172-178.
  9. Cespedes CL et al. Food Chem Toxicol. 2017 Oct;108(Pt B):438-450.
  10. Davinelli S et al. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34 Suppl 1:28-33.
  11. Schön C et al. Nutrients. 2018 Nov 9;10(11).
  12. Peyton SM et al. J Am Optom Assoc. 1989 Mar;60(3):207-10.

Top Foods High in Iodine

Holli Ryan RD, LD/N

Food Sources of IodineIodine is an essential trace mineral, or micromineral, meaning we require smaller amounts of it compared with macrominerals, such as calcium.

The primary role of iodine in mammalian biology is to support the synthesis of thyroid hormones.1,2 Iodine also plays an important role in fetal neurodevelopment/cognitive development in children.3,4 Iodine has also been shown to support normal breast tissue in women.4

Who is at risk of not getting enough iodine?

  • Residents of developing countries5
  • Vegetarians and vegans5,6
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women4,5

Those who are deficient, at risk of deficiency or whose diet may be lacking should focus on including more whole food sources of iodine and consider supplementing to ensure adequate intake. Thank you to the Vegan Liftz community for including Life Extension’s Sea-Iodine™ in your ‘Best Vegan Iodine Supplements’ Buyers Guide.

Food Sources of Iodine5,6

Seafood and Sea Vegetables

  • Seaweed
  • Kelp
  • Bladderwrack
  • Nori
  • Wakame
  • Kombu
  • Hijiki
Seaweed types that contain Iodine Kelp Bladderwrack Nori Wakame Kombu Hijiki

Fish and Shellfish

  • Cod
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Salmon
seafood that contains iodine Cod Sardines Tuna Shrimp Scallops Salmon


  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese

dairy products with iodine Milk Yogurt Cheese

Poultry Products

  • Eggs
  • Turkey

poultry contains iodine Eggs Turkey

Beans (Legumes)

  • Navy Beans
  • Lima Beans

Beans (Legumes) contain iodine Navy Beans Lima Beans

Fruit and Vegetables

  • Potatoes
  • Prunes

Fruit and Vegetables contain iodine Potatoes Prunes

Salt as a Source of Iodine

sea salt and Himalayan do not have as much iodine as iodized saltIn addition to the list above, iodized salt is a major source of iodine. Seafood contains the highest amount of iodine by weight compared to other foods. However, unfortified sea salt only contains a small amount of iodine. For cooking, chefs and consumers may choose sea salt or Himalayan salt as an alternative to table salt (iodized salt) for flavor, texture and their small amount of mineral content aside from sodium. Notably, these options do not have as much iodine as iodized salt.

Iodine in Plants

When it comes to fruits, vegetables and legumes as a source of iodine, the amount varies due to the quality of the soil, which depends on the region and growing practices.5,6 Other important minerals, such as the macromineral magnesium, are also affected by variations in soil quality.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Holli Ryan RD LD/NAbout the Author: Holli Ryan is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist, health and wellness advocate, and blogger/writer based in South Florida. She is a Florida International University graduate and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Her focus as a dietitian is disease prevention and management of health through nutrition education and customized suggestions. Holli believes that quality dietary supplements are an essential tool that have a variety of applications, from maintaining good health to managing chronic disease.


  1. Niwattisaiwong S, Burman KD, Li-Ng M. Iodine deficiency: Clinical implications. Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine. 2017;84(3):236-244.
  2. Triggiani V, Tafaro E, Giagulli VA, et al. Role of iodine, selenium and other micronutrients in thyroid function and disorders. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2009;9(3):277-294.
  3. Zimmermann MB. The role of iodine in human growth and development. Seminars in cell & developmental biology. 2011;22(6):645-652.
  4. Chittimoju SB, Pearce EN. Iodine Deficiency and Supplementation in Pregnancy. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2019;62(2):330-338.
  5. NIH, Iodine Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Published by U. S. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Last updated: 05/01/2020. Accessed: 05/13/2020.
  6. Higdon J, Drake VJ, Delage B, Pearce EN, Iodine. Published by Linus Pauling Institute. Last updated: 08/2015. Accessed: 05/13/2020.

Is Breast Milk Enough for a Baby?

Dayna Dye

mother’s milk is sometimes not enough when it comes to meeting nutrient needsBreastfeeding is superior to bottle feeding for many reasons, but a mother’s milk is sometimes not enough when it comes to meeting nutrient needs —in quantity and in quality.

As early as 1921, a report concerning the potential adverse effects of bottle-feeding infants appeared in a medical journal. At that time, medical professionals received significantly more education concerning artificial feeding in comparison with breastfeeding.1

Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the optimal source of nutrition through the first year of life: “We recommend exclusively breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby's life, and then gradually adding solid foods while continuing breastfeeding until at least the baby's first birthday.”2

“Breast is Best” Health Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies

  •  Bonding with mother
Skin-to-skin contact is important and breastfeeding helps provide an opportunity for bonding.

  •  Brain support
A study reported in the European Journal of Nutrition found better cognitive performance and gross motor skills among infants that were bottle-fed breast milk in comparison with those who were bottle-fed formula. Among infants who received only breast milk, those who were fed directly at the breast had better scores on some memory tasks compared to infants who were fed partially or completely by bottle.3

  •  Improved response to pain
A study that involved 100 one-day-old infants who were vaccinated for hepatitis B resulted in shorter crying duration during and after the injection among those who were breastfed compared to those who received powdered formula. The authors noted that human milk contains endorphins that are natural pain relievers.4

  •  Lower risk of obesity
Breast milk provides bioactive factors that may support a decreased risk of childhood obesity.5 In one study that collected anthropometric data from 203 infants during the first year of their lives, 4% of breastfed infants were overweight at 12 months of age compared with 7.6% of those who received both breast milk and formula.6

  •  Improved microbiome composition
Components of breast milk affect microbial colonization of an infant’s mucosa, which influences immune system development.7 Compared with the gut microbiota composition of breastfed infants, the gut microbiota composition of formula-fed infants has been found to more closely resemble the microbiota composition of adults who consume a Western diet.8

  •  Immune system support
Breast milk “provides protection during the newborn's adaption to the extrauterine environment and reduces the morbidity and mortality caused by both infectious and noninfectious diseases,” note the authors of a Nestle Nutrition Institute Workshop series published in 2020. “Its components act directly against infectious agents, but they also accelerate the newborn's immune system development, increasing its capacity for defense and reducing the risk of allergy and other immune-related diseases. Cytokines show the most refined immunomodulatory effects, but oligosaccharides, hormones and other components affect the newborn's immunity as well.”7

Breastfed infants had a lower incidence of diarrheal illness and middle ear infections during the first year of life and shorter duration of middle ear infections during the second year of life compared with formula-fed infants in one study.9 Diabetes incidence was found to be lower later in life in an at-risk population group who were breastfed during their first two months of life.10

Reasons why Breast is Best for Babies Health

When Breastfeeding Alone is Not Enough

  •  Inadequate supply
Some women do not produce a healthy supply of milk. It then becomes necessary to supplement breast milk with donated breast milk or formula to provide the infant with enough nourishment. Breast milk has many components, including casein and whey protein, fatty acids and vitamins and minerals that infant formula manufacturers attempt to duplicate.11

  •  Insufficient amount of vitamin D
The nutrients that breastmilk is deficient in are vitamin K, iron and vitamin D.12 Infants who are deficient in vitamin D run the risk of poor bone mineralization and rickets. Women who breastfeed may need to supplement with at least 2000 international units (IU) vitamin D per day for their milk to provide an infant with enough of the vitamin to result in adequate levels.

Related Article: Prenatal Supplement for Mom: Before, During and After Pregnancy

According to the Institute of Medicine, people are at risk of vitamin D deficiency at a serum vitamin D level of less than 12 ng/mL and of inadequacy at 12-20 ng/mL.13 Babies who are exclusively breastfed by vitamin D-supplemented mothers may sometimes still fail to attain optimal levels. Writing in the journal Pediatrics, Carol L. Wagner, MD, Frank R. Greer, MD and the Section on Breastfeeding and Committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “at this time it is prudent to recommend that all breastfed infants be given supplemental vitamin D3.”14

“A supplement of 400 IU/day of vitamin D should begin within the first few days of life and continue throughout childhood,” they continue. “Any breastfeeding infant, regardless of whether he or she is being supplemented with formula, should be supplemented with 400 IU of vitamin D, because it is unlikely that a breastfed infant would consume one liter of formula per day, the amount that would supply 400 IU of vitamin D.”

“Infants who are exclusively breastfed but who do not receive supplemental vitamin D or adequate sunlight exposure are at increased risk of developing vitamin D deficiency and/or rickets,” noted the author of a commentary in the Indian Journal of Medical Research. “The only practical option available is to seriously consider a routine vitamin D supplementation program starting from neonatal period extending right through the childhood into adolescence. In a recently published study, oral vitamin D3 supplementation as an oil emulsion has been shown to be associated with significant and sustained increases in 25(OH)D from baseline in fully breastfeeding infants through seven months.”15

In a study involving 2,244 infants, median time to first respiratory tract infection was longer than six months for those supplemented from birth with 400 to 600 IU vitamin D, in contrast with unsupplemented infants who experienced their first respiratory tract infection an average of 60 days after birth.16 Children who received vitamin D supplements five to seven days per week had a 54% lower risk of respiratory tract infection, an 83% lower risk of lower respiratory tract infection and an 82% lower risk of hospitalization related to respiratory tract infection in comparison with infants who did not receive the vitamin.

  •  Deficient vitamin K levels
An infant’s need for vitamin K, which is present only in low levels in breast milk, has led to the routine administration of injectable vitamin K to all newborns to prevent the risk of severe bleeding, which is 81 times more likely among those who do not receive vitamin K and can happen as long as six months after birth. Bleeding can occur anywhere, including in the brain, and is associated with mortality among 20% of all infants in whom it occurs.17

  •  Insufficient iron
Breast milk contains only a small amount of iron. Because most infants are born with iron already stored in their bodies, it is usually not necessary for those who are exclusively breastfed to begin receiving iron supplements until they are four months old. The recommended dose of supplemental iron for an infant is 1 milligram iron per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the child’s body weight.18

A study that compared breast to bottle-fed babies found an absence of storage iron among 27.8% of those who were breastfed in contrast with none who received formula. Anemia incidence was four times higher in the breast-fed group compared to the formula group.19

Nutritional insufficiencies associated with breast milk consumption

The Bottom Line

Is breast best? The answer, in most cases, is a resounding yes, as long as infants receive key nutrients that are important for those of any age. The use of nutritional supplements (with a pediatrician’s approval) and timely introduction of solid food will help make up for insufficiencies associated with breast milk consumption.

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.


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  2. “Where We Stand: Breastfeeding.” The American Academy of Pediatrics. Updated 2014 11 July.
  3. Pang WW et al. Eur J Nutr. 2020 Mar;59(2):609-619.
  4. Hatami Bavarsad Z et al. Arch Pediatr. 2018 Aug;25(6):365-370.
  5. Marseglia L et al. Women Birth. 2015 Jun;28(2):81-6.
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  10. Pettitt DG et al. Lancet. 1997 Jul 19;350(9072):166-8.
  11. Martin CR et al. Nutrients. 2016 May 11;8(5).
  12. “Breastfeeding and Special Circumstances.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Last reviewed 2019 22 Dec.
  13. “Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Updated 2020 24 March.
  14. Wagner CL et al. Pediatrics. 2008 Nov;122(5):1142-52.
  15. Balsubramanian S. Indian J Med Res. 2011 Mar;133:250-2.
  16. Hong M et al. Matern Child Nutr. 2020 Mar 5:e12987.
  17. “FAQs.” Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed 2019 19 Feb.
  18. “Iron.” Breastfeeding. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed 2019 14 Feb.
  19. Calvo EB et al. Pediatrics. 1992 Sep;90(3):375-9.

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