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Human milk oligosacharides influence development of the microbiome


*Corresponding author
1. ANOZENE Nutritional Sciences, Berchem Antwerp, Belgium
2. Jennewein Biotechnologie GmbH, Rheinbreitbach, Germany


Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are a significant component in breast milk and although largely indigestible by infants, they play an important role in infant health and growth by helping to develop the gastrointestinal microbiome immediately after birth.  Formula fed infants lack this advantage.  The microbiome contains a large bacterial population and harbours an enormous array of genes that allow it to produce many compounds and enzymes which the body cells cannot produce.  Nutrition now needs to be directed towards efficient management of the microbiome since it is well established that an optimal functioning of the microbiome will make a major improvement in health maintenance and disease avoidance in later life.


Human milk is the primary source of nutrition for new-born infants and contains, in addition to proteins and fats, a large number of diverse oligosaccharides.  These are known collectively as human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) and comprise between 5 and 23 g/L of human milk.  The HMOs are composed of various monosaccharides namely, glucose, galactose, fucose, N-acetylneuraminic acid and N-acetylglucosamine (1).  Human milk is unique in that the oligosaccharide content is much higher than in other species.  By comparison, the concentration of milk oligosaccharides in goats is 0.25–0.30 g/L, which is higher than in the milk of the cow (0.03–0.06 g/L) or sheep (0.02–0.04 g/L) (2).

Human milk oligosaccharides are largely indigestible by infants, but they play an important role in the health and growth of infants by helping to develop the gastrointestinal microbiome and offer protection against colonization by pathogenic bacteria (3). This ...

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