The patent, filed by Nestlé’s research arm Nestec, described the casein protein product as a “nutritional intervention”.
It said previous research has suggested bovine casein proteins could improve insulin sensitivity following energy restriction when compared to whey protein. What was not known however was the possible long-term consequences of early protein intake on insulin sensitivity under normal growth conditions.
“The present inventors have surprisingly shown that the feeding of casein early in life can improve glucose tolerance in short-term and improve insulin sensitivity in long-term, later in life. This is especially apparent when subjects are challenged with adipogenic diet in adult age, later in life,” the wrote.
Caseins are proteins commonly found in mammalian milk, including cow, goat, buffalo, sheep and human milk. The company proposed to use casein from cow’s milk, which was readily available commercially.
The patent referenced research on young rats fed a diet with casein protein, which suggested a protective effect on insulin sensitivity when they were exposed to an fat-inducing 'adipogenic' diet as adult rats. This was in contrast with rats fed whey protein, which displayed impaired insulin sensitivity as adults.
A window of opportunity
The company described the importance of ‘early programming’ in metabolic syndrome disorders and disease prevention, with prenatal and early postnatal periods being key windows of opportunity.
“It is now well recognised that suboptimal nutrition during critical periods of development may induce long-term alterations in organ structures or functions, which can predispose humans to later chronic diseases,” it wrote.
The patent also referenced the idea that certain infants may be more predisposed to these conditions due to genetic heritage. Earlier this year Nestlé announced it would contribute 22m Swiss francs (€18.31m) to a six-year multinational epigenetics research partnership with the hope of finding out more on how environmental factors like eating behaviours impacted genetics of the consumer and their future family.
According to UK National Health Service (NHS) advice, infant formula based mostly on casein is thought to take babies longer to digest than whey-based formula.
“It's not recommended for young babies, and there is little nutritional difference between this formula and first infant formula [for newborns]. Although it's often described as suitable for ‘hungrier babies’, there is no evidence that babies settle better or sleep longer when fed this type of formula.”
Source: WIPOPublication No. WO/2015/078974
Published: 4 June, 2015 Filed: 27 November, 2014
“Infant nutrition improvement in insulin sensitivity later in life”
Authors: Nestec S.A. – F. Blancher, C. Mace and Y. Shahkhalili Dulloo