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Acta Paediatr. 1996 Sep;85(9):1029-32.

Decreased thymus size in formula-fed infants compared with breastfed infants.

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Department of Radiology, Hvidovre Hospital, Denmark.


The objective of this research was to investigate if breastfeeding affects the size of the thymus. Ultrasound assessment of the thymic index (a volume estimate) at birth and age 4 months in 47 healthy infants born in the hospital were used. History of feeding mode, body size and illness were registered. At 4 months the geometric mean thymic index (range) was 38.3 (16.2-83.2) in exclusively breastfed infants (n = 21), 27.3 (15.6-50.0) in partially breastfed infants (n = 13) and 18.3 (12.2-32.6) in formula fed infants (n = 13; p = 0.0001, ANOVA). This finding was independent of weight, length, sex and previous or current illness. There was no significant difference in mean thymic index at birth between the three feeding groups and mean thymic index had increased in all three groups from birth to 4 months. For the formula-fed infants it seems that the thymus remains large for a period and then decreases in size after breastfeeding has been terminated. We conclude that the thymus is considerably larger in breastfed than in formula-fed infants at the age of 4 months. The cause of this difference is unknown but human milk contains many immune modulating factors that might cause this effect.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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