For several years now, studies have emerged showing that breastfed babies often perform better on standardized tests and display higher overall levels of intelligence than their formula-fed counterparts. And since baby formula possesses, at least according to a number of mainstream researchers, many of the same basic characteristics as breast milk, the reality that breastfed babies tend to display higher levels of intelligence currently presents a conundrum for the medical community.

Of course, theories have been proposed. One such theory is that women who breastfeed their babies possess different personality traits than those women who chose to feed their infants formula. It’s been postulated that women who take the time to feed their babies from their own breasts are smarter. Perhaps the fact that such women harbor the desire to breastfeed also indicates that they are more invested in the future of their infant. And if they are more invested their baby, then it could be proposed that they interact more closely with the baby and initiate a greater number of activities to foster its intelligence.

The hypothesis is plausible and may be true to a certain extent. Yet a recent study by researchers at McGill University and conducted at a Belarrussian hospital has poked a serious hole in its accuracy, highly suggesting that other factors govern the level of mental development achieved by breastfed and formula fed babies.

Key to the Belarussian study is that unlike any of the previous studies conducted on breastfed/formula fed infants, the mothers of the babies were randomly assigned to two different groups. Other studies on the same topic have instead allowed mothers to chose whether or not they want to breastfeed or formula feed their infants. Or, research teams have simply tracked the children of breastfeeding mothers and then compared them to the children of mothers who had independently made the choice to use formula instead. The problem with such study designs is that in each case, the mothers themselves chose how to feed their infant, making it impossible to test whether children’s intelligence levels later in life are due to the milk/ formula or the characteristics of the mother.

However, in the Belarussian trial, about half the 14,000 babies under study were randomly assigned to a group in which prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding by the mother was encouraged at several hospitals and clinics. The mothers of the other babies received no special encouragement. The result was that those infants in the breastfeeding encouragement group were, on average, breastfed longer than the others and were less likely to have been given formula in a bottle, yet the decision to breastfed was largely influenced by the researchers conducting the study rather than the personalities of the mothers themselves.

“The design of the study — randomly assigning babies to two groups regardless of the mothers’ characteristics — was intended to eliminate the confusion [of whether breastfed babies are given more attention],” state the team.

At 3 months, 73 percent of the babies in the breastfeeding encouragement group were breastfed, compared to 60 percent of the other group. At 6 months, it was 50 percent versus 36 percent. In addition, the group given encouragement was far more likely to give their children only breast milk. The rate was seven times higher, for example, at 3 months.

The children were monitored for about 6 1/2 years, at which point the researchers proceeded to measure the differences between the children in two groups using IQ tests administered by the children’s pediatricians and by ratings by their teachers of their school performance in reading, writing, math and other subjects.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the study design had largely eliminated the “mothers who breastfeed are more likely to invest in their infants” variable, children who had been breastfed still scored higher on intelligence tests. In fact, the children in the group where breastfeeding was encouraged scored about 5 percent higher in IQ tests and did better academically.

Although Kramer and team were able to identify a causal relationship between breastfeeding and measured intelligence, they admit to being somewhat flummoxed by exactly how this happens. A number of mechanisms are suggested including the notion that maybe there’s some constituent unique to breast milk, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids, which offers breastfed infants an advantage. However studies that have attempted to add polyunsaturated acids to formula have yielded inconsistent results when tested on infants. Others have proposed that breast milk may superior to formula because it contains more insulin-like growth factor I, but it’s difficult to connect a growth factor to cognitive function.

One of the old refrains you hear on Bacteriality time and again is “What about the alternate hypothesis?” So, what about it? In this case, the variable which escaped the researchers’ consideration is right under their noses. Whereas natural breast milk is low in vitamin D, infant formula is fortified with the secosteroid,

So, it’s very likely that the characteristics of the baby formula itself, rather than the characteristics of breastfeeding mothers or possibly even the properties of natural milk, are the driving factor determining intelligence levels among formula-fed children. The vitamin D added to baby formula is in the form of 25-D – the vitamin D metabolite that slows activity of the Vitamin D Receptor. Since the Vitamin D Receptor is key to controlling the activity of the innate immune response, those infants fed formula gradually ingest enough 25-D to slow the activity of the receptor. It follows that the chronic, intraphagocytic bacteria capable of infecting the brain and causing numerous mental deficiencies, learning disorders, and overall mental sluggishness (the very conditions and diseases correctable by removing vitamin D from one’s diet) are able to infect and persist in the heads of the formula fed babies with greater ease.

Here then is a summary of the McGill study. People add unnatural substance to food for infants. Infants ingest said substance. Infants grow up to have lower intelligence.

Mothers and their doctors privy to this study will probably opt to breastfeed their babies, albeit for the wrong reason. So at least, even if based on misinformation, most doctors currently recommend breastfeeding over formula feeding. Still, the number of formula fed babies reigns in the millions, compromising their later health and well-being.