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Cow antibodies suspected as a cause of colic.

Cow antibodies suspected as a cause of colic

No one relishes the sound of a squalling infant, least of all the child's parents. While most moms and dads can hush their babies with a feeding or a diaper change, one out of every five infants in the United States remains unconsolable, suffering bouts of "excessive" crying due to a baffling disorder called colic.

During the first four months of life, colicky babies often wail for hours on end, says pediatrician Patrick S. Clyne of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Some parents find it difficult to bond with babies who can't be quieted, and researchers list colic as one of many factors that can trigger child abuse. "It is a very difficult time in the parents' life," Clyne says.

A new study focusing on the cause of colic may offer hope to sleep-deprived parents. In the April PEDIATRICS, Clyne and co-worker Anthony Kulczycki describe results suggesting that certain antibodies produced by cows contribute to colic in susceptible infants.

Kulczycki, an immunologist at Washington University, says the study is the first to pinpoint a specific type of bovine protein associated with colic: antibodies called immunoglobulin-G (IgG).

The finding builds on at least seven previous studies, which indicated that unidentified proteins in cow's milk might cause colic in some infants -- even infants fed exclusively human milk. In one such study, breast-feeding mothers with colickly infants ate a milk-free diet for about a week, and colic symptoms disappeared in nearly half bies during that time, the St. Louis researchers note.

Presumably, nursing mothers somehow incorporate cow proteins for their diet into their breast milk. But past attempts to measure several bovine proteins in human milk turned up only small amounts, leaving scientists unable to explain why breast-fed babies get colic as often as babies fed formulas based on cow milk.

When Clyne and Kulczycki looked for bovine IgG in milk from 59 nursing mothers, they found that the concentrations averaged 31 percent higher in mothers with colicky babies than in those with noncolicky babies. What's more, they discovered that milk from 51 (86 percent) of the women -- showed bovine IgG concentrations at least 200 times higher than the levels of the other cow proteins measured in earlier studies. Indeed, milk from two of the mothers contained more bovine IgG than did several infant formulas based on cow's milk.

"Most mothers have an incredible amount of cow antibodies in their milk," Kulczycki told SCIENCE NEWS.

The fact that colic did not strike all infants who drank breast milk laced with bovine IgG, he says, supports past findings suggesting that not all infants are susceptible to cow proteins. The St. Louis team plans a detailed follow-up to examine the degree to which adding or removing these antibodies from the diets of colicky infants affects their crying. Clyne theorizes that some babies may have colic-predisposing conditions, such as an underdeveloped digestive system that cannot handle the foreign proteins.

Ronald G. Barr, a child-development researcher at McGill University in Montreal, says he suspects that only about 10 percent of colic cases trace to a single causative agent such as cow antibodies. He favors the idea that colic may involve many contributing factors -- especially behavioral ones such as how often parents feed or hold their infants.

"I think it's neat," Barr says of the new study, but he adds: "I don't think it's going to explain all colic."

Kulczycki, on the other hand, maintains the results suggest that cow IgGs are a "major cause" of colic.

Noting that women who give up breast feeding frequently cite colic as the reason, Kulczycki suggests that these mothers first try forgoing dairy products for at least a week -- while maintaining their calcium supplies with supplements -- to see if the diet makes a difference.
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Title Annotation:immunoglobulin-G in cow's milk may be causing colic in infants
Author:Gibbons, Wendy
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 6, 1991
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