Although our gut microbiome is home to the majority (and greatest variety) of microbes in our body, several smaller bacterial communities also play important roles in our health—for women, one of these is the breast microbiome.
Beyond Milk: The Breast Microbiome
For many years, scientists believed that the only way beneficial bacteria could make it into the breast ducts and tissue was via the skin from breast milk, which contains a plethora of good microbes.1 Recent findings indicate that breast tissue is far from sterile. In fact, it has its own unique microbiome, and certain helpful bacteria can help support breast health.
In one study, researchers analyzed breast tissue from 81 women aged 18-90 undergoing surgeries. After analyzing tissue from various locations in the breast, scientists discovered that the breast harbored an impressive amount of bacteria, whether or not the patient had ever lactated.
The most abundant bacteria were Proteobacteria and Firmicutes, both well-suited to the fatty acid environment of the breast. Several other types of microbes found in breast tissue also make other microbiomes their homes, such as the skin, vagina, mouth, and intestine. Even health-supporting superhero probiotics Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, most prolific in the gut, were apparent in the normal breast tissue.2
Probiotics for Maintaining Breast Health
So, how exactly do beneficial bacteria keep breasts healthy? Well, we aren’t yet sure of the exact mechanisms, but researchers do know that both Lactobacillus and Streptococcus have properties that discourage the growth of harmful bacteria and encourage normal tissue growth. In addition, beneficial bacteria
Scientists also theorize that the good bacteria in breast tissue may help stimulate immune cells to take action against harmful invaders, signaling our system to take care of any issues before they become problematic.4
And of course, probiotics are known for their ability to crowd out and discourage the bad guy bacteria, both in the gut and throughout the body. If the breast microbiome is full of the good guys, the bad guys have a much less likely chance of finding a spot to settle in!
5 Tips for a Healthy Breast Microbiome
What does all this fascinating research mean to us as women? In essence, beneficial bacteria—probiotics—can work within our breasts to keep them healthy and free from inhospitable bacteria that can lead to a host of problems.
Here are our top 5 tips for keeping the good bugs in your breasts happy and thriving:
1. Take probiotics! How do they get there? Studies show that ingested probiotics actually make their way into breast tissue and the mammary glands.5 Taking a high-quality, targeted probiotic formula like PRO-Women can ensure that you are getting the beneficial microbes you need to keep your entire microbiome healthy and in balance.
2. Eat fermented foods. In addition to taking a daily probiotic supplement, eating healthy, nutrient-rich fermented fare full of beneficial microbes will help to keep your breast microbiome in tip top shape.
3. Stay away from depleters. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles are rife with things that can deplete the good bugs in our body: diet, stress, certain medications, antibiotics in food and as medicine, antibacterial cleaners, and hidden contaminants in our food and water all can drastically reduce the number of probiotics in our system.
4. Breastfeed if you can. Because breast milk contains so many beneficial bacteria, breastfeeding for as long as possible gives your breasts long-term exposure to the good microbes that can keep your bosom healthy. Furthermore, moms who breastfeed lower their risk of breast cancer significantly and the longer they nurse, the lower their risk. Every year of breastfeeding (combined total, from all children) equals a 4.3% decrease in breast cancer risk.6
5. Include plenty of prebiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that are food for all the good bacteria in your body (including those that travel to your breasts). Prebiotic foods—such as dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus, and bananas—nourish the probiotics in your body so they can grow. An organic prebiotic powder supplement Prebiotic supplements can also give your good bugs the quality nutrition they need to help them thrive.
As women, it’s important to take care of every part of our body, but our breasts have special significance as an incredible source of nurturing and sustenance for our children. Now that we know that breasts have their own unique microbiome designed to keep us healthy, we can make sure to give our body lots of TLC so we—and our microbes—can live our healthiest, vibrant days.
Did you find this article helpful and want to know how probiotics work? Then consider checking How do probiotics work.References:
1. Urbaniak, C., Burton, J. P., & Reid, G. (2012). Breast, milk and microbes: A complex relationship that does not end with lactation. Women's Health, 8(4), 385-398.
2. Urbaniak, C., Cummins, J., Brackstone, M., Macklaim, J. M., Gloor, G. B., Baban, C. K., . . . Reid, G. (2014). Microbiota of Human Breast Tissue. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, <80(10), 3007-3014.
3. Urbaniak, C., Gloor, G. B., Brackstone, M., Scott, L., Tangney, M., & Reid, G. (2016). The microbiota of breast tissue and its association with tumours. Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
4. Xuan, C., Shamonki, J. M., Chung, A., Dinome, M. L., Chung, M., Sieling, P. A., & Lee, D. J. (2014). Microbial Dysbiosis Is Associated with Human Breast Cancer. PLoS ONE, 9(1).
5. Jimenez, E., Fernandez, L., Maldonado, A., Martin, R., Olivares, M., Xaus, J., & Rodriguez, J. M. (2008). Oral Administration of Lactobacillus Strains Isolated from Breast Milk as an Alternative for the Treatment of Infectious Mastitis during Lactation. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 74(15), 4650-4655.
6. Breast cancer and breastfeeding: Collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50 302 women with breast cancer and 96 973 women without the disease. (2002). The Lancet, 360(9328), 187-195.
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.