Human milk and the rate of small intestinal mucosal recovery in protracted diarrhea

J Pediatr. 1989 Feb;114(2):218-24. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3476(89)80786-3.


Study objective: To determine whether human milk accelerates the recovery rate of injured small intestinal mucosa.

Design: Randomized, controlled trial.

Setting: County and nonprofit, private urban hospitals.

Patients: Moderately to severely malnourished infants less than 6 months of age who required parenteral nutrition for treatment of protracted diarrhea.

Interventions: Either a human milk preparation (n = 7) or sterile water (n = 9) was administered by continuous nasogastric feeding (14 mL/kg/d) over a 2-week study period while the infants received parenteral nutrition.

Measurements and main results: Small intestine perfusion studies and biopsies were performed at the beginning and end of the study. Age, duration of prior illness, severity of malnutrition, glucose and water absorption, disaccharidase activities, atrophy of villi, and nutritional intake were comparable in both groups of infants. At the end of the 2-week study, improvement toward normal sucrase activity and intraepithelial lymphocytes was found in significantly fewer infants in the milk group than in the water group. No differences were noted in glucose and water absorption or in lactase and maltase activities as a function of the milk versus water treatment.

Conclusions: Human milk did not accelerate functional recovery of the small intestinal mucosa.

PIP: Physicians studied 16 moderately to severely malnourished infants 6 months old who had severe diarrhea for 2 weeks and did not gain weight. After admitting the infants, they administered total parenteral nutrition (TPN) to the infants through a central vein. As the infants began receiving TPN, they were randomly assigned to receive either banked human milk or sterile water by continuous nasogastric feeding for 2 weeks. In addition, before beginning nasogastric feedings and at the conclusion of the study, a physician performed a peroral biopsy of the small intestine. Small intestine perfusion studies were also done in the beginning and at the end of the 2 week period. More infants in the human milk group than in the sterile water group had 25% decrease in sucrase activity (p.02). Researchers noted that the villus/crypt ratio was similar in both groups at the beginning of the study and improved only in the sterile water group (p.002), but this was not a function of treatment. Additionally, more infants in the human milk group had an increase in the intraepithelial lymphocyte count than those in the sterile water group (milk, 5/7; water, 1/8; p.03). On the other hand, the data demonstrate that no differences existed in glucose and water absorption or in lactase and maltase activities as a function of the milk versus water treatment. Therefore, the results of this study suggest that human milk does not benefit small intestine mucosa recovery. Research to determine the effect of predigested formulas or specific factors in fresh human milk on the rate of mucosal recovery is needed.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diarrhea, Infantile / blood
  • Diarrhea, Infantile / pathology
  • Diarrhea, Infantile / therapy*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology*
  • Intestine, Small / pathology*
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Milk, Human*
  • Parenteral Nutrition, Total*
  • Random Allocation


  • Glucose