Stress attenuation by massage therapy appears to improve body fat deposition in male preterm infants, according to researchers.
Dr Laurie J Moyer-Mileur of the University of Utah and colleagues note that such therapy is advocated in preterm infants. In an earlier study they found it also improved autonomic nervous system function, and in turn stress response, in male preterm infants who received twice-daily massage.
As Dr Moyer-Mileur said, "Preterm infants experience chronic stress while hospitalised, which in turn, alters growth quality by increasing body fat. We have shown twice-daily massage not only improves stress response in preterm infants but decreases body fat deposition in male infants."
In an online paper in the Journal of Pediatrics, the team notes that in the current study they sought to investigate reports that massage also led to weight gain.
How the research was done
The researchers randomised 22 preemies (12 girls and 10 boys) to massage for 20 minutes twice daily or control care. In the latter, the massage therapist simply stood quietly by the bedside during these periods.
At four weeks, energy and protein intake as well as increase in weight, length, and body circumferences were similar across groups.
However, there appeared to be sex-specific responses. Female infants in the massage group had larger increases in subscapular skinfold thickness compared to control females.
Among males, the massage group had a smaller ponderal index, triceps skinfold thickness, mid-thigh skinfold thickness, and subscapular skinfold thickness compared to the control group. "This finding," say the investigators, "suggests massage promotes lean mass over fat mass in male preterm infants."
Male massage infants' adiponectin concentrations decreased over time in contrast to a significant, sustained increase in male control infants. This increase was correlated to ponderal index.
The researchers concede that the study was small but conclude, "The stable circulating adiponectin concentrations with massage treatment support the theory that massage attenuates stress-driven body fat acquisition in male preterm infants."
Dr Moyer-Mileur added, "Our findings are clinically important as the ability of massage, a non-invasive therapy, to improve body fat deposition during infancy may lessen the risk of metabolic problems to preterm infants as they age."
(Reuters Health, October 2012)