Human touch meets nutrition

I recently encountered the following statement…

“Physician and author Abraham Verghese argues that the most important innovation to come in medicine in the next 10 years is human touch.”

…and was asked to discuss it. Here’s what I said:

I spent the last five years doing a PhD in nutrition with a goal to understand how diet can prevent disease. One thing I realized during this degree is that the most efficient way to prevent disease is to nourish optimally during the first 1000 days of life—a time when breast milk is the most important source of nutrition. Unfortunately, too many women can’t breastfeed, or choose not to, or have circumstances that prevent it. What I’ve learned is that technological innovation cannot fix this problem. Even if formula companies created a powder that perfectly matched the composition of breast milk, it wouldn’t matter. That’s because the nourishment an infant receives when it breastfeeds is only partially due to the physical constituents of the milk itself. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact…the touch between the mother and her child is the key. Touch is what enables the mother to produce the specific antibodies for the germs her baby has been exposed to. Touch is what enables optimal development of the baby’s jaw, teeth and facial structure. And most importantly, touch stimulates greater oxytocin release in the mother which makes her more confident, improves her mood, lessens her stress, strengthens her bond with her child and increases her desire to care for her baby. Therefore, innovation in formula technologies won’t fix the health issues that stem from the earliest days of life. Because the preventative health benefits of breastfeeding are as much due to touch as they are to nutrition.

 

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