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Summary

Nutrition and growth during infancy are an emerging issue because of their potential link to metabolic health disorders in later life. Moreover, prolonged breast-feeding appears to be associated with a lower risk of obesity than formula feeding. Human milk is a source of various hormones and growth factors, namely adipokines (leptin and adiponectin), ghrelin, resistin and obestatin, which are involved in food intake regulation and energy balance. These compounds are either not found in commercial milk formulas or their presence is still controversial. Diet-related differences during infancy in serum levels of factors involved in energy metabolism might explain anthropometric differences and also differences in dietary habits between breast-fed (BF) and formula-fed (FF) infants later in life, and may thus have long-term health consequences. In this context, the recent finding of higher leptin levels and lower ghrelin levels in BF than in FF infants suggests that differences in hormonal values together with different protein intake could account for the differences in growth between BF and FF infants both during infancy and later in life. In this review, we examine the data related to hormones contained in mothers’ milk and their potential protective effect on subsequent obesity and metabolic-related disorders.