Study sheds new light on importance of human breast milk ingredient

May 14, 2012

A new University of Illinois study shows that human milk oligosaccharides, or HMO, produce short-chain fatty acids that feed a beneficial microbial population in the infant gut. Not only that, the bacterial composition adjusts as the baby grows older and its needs change.

Even though HMO are a major component of human milk, present in higher concentration than protein, many of their actions in the infant are not well understood. Furthermore, they're virtually absent from infant formula. The scientists wanted to find out what formula-fed babies were missing.

"We refer to HMO as the fiber of because we don't have the enzymes to break down these compounds. They pass into the where the bacteria digest them.

"We're curious about the role they play in the development of the breast-fed infant's because the bacteria found in the guts of formula-fed infants is different," said Sharon Donovan, the U of I's Melissa M. Noel Endowed Professor in Nutrition and Health.

With this study, Donovan is gaining insight into the mystery. For the first time, scientists have shown that a complex mixture of HMO and a single HMO component produce patterns of short-chain fatty acids that change as the infant gets older.

A healthy microbiome has both short- and long-term effects on an infant's health. In the short term, beneficial bacteria protect the infant from infection by . In the long term, beneficial bacteria strengthen the immune system so that it can fend off like food allergies and asthma, she said.

In the study, was obtained from mothers of at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, and the HMO were isolated and analyzed. The scientists tested bacteria from 9- and 17-day-old sow-reared and formula-fed piglets. Because piglets grow so rapidly, these ages reflect approximately three- and six-month-old human infants.

The colon bacteria were added to test tubes containing HMO and two prebiotics commonly used in infant formulas. These mixtures were allowed to ferment and then sampled to see how the bacterial population was changing over time and what products were being produced by the bacteria.

"When the HMOs were introduced, the bacteria produced short-chain fatty acids, at some cases at higher levels than other prebiotics now used in infant formula. The short-chain fatty acids can be used as a fuel source for and also affect gastrointestinal development and pH in the gut, which reduces the number of disease-causing pathogens," she said.

Further, different HMOs produced different patterns of short-chain fatty acids, and the composition of bacteria in the gut changed over time. "It was distinctly different at 9 vs. 17 days, making it likely that the functions of HMO change as the human infant gets older," she said.

According to Donovan, HMO are critically important in understanding how breastfeeding protects babies.

"Several companies are now able to synthesize HMO, and in the future, we may be able to use them to improve infant formula. There's evidence that these compounds can bind to receptors on immune cells and, to our knowledge, no current prebiotic ingredient can do that," she said.

The study was published in the April issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

Explore further: New infant formula ingredients boost babies' immunity by feeding their gut bacteria

Provided by: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

shares

Related Stories

New infant formula ingredients boost babies' immunity by feeding their gut bacteria

February 29, 2012
Adding prebiotic ingredients to infant formula helps colonize the newborn's gut with a stable population of beneficial bacteria, and probiotics enhance immunity in formula-fed infants, two University of Illinois studies report.

Breastfeeding is associated with a healthy infant gut

April 30, 2012
Early colonization of the gut by microbes in infants is critical for development of their intestinal tract and in immune development. A new study, published in BioMed Central's open access journal Genome Biology, shows that ...

Researchers find enriched infant formulas benefit brain and heart

September 19, 2011
University of Kansas scientists have found new evidence that infant formulas fortified with long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) are good for developing brains and hearts.

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.