Human breast milk has a unique composition of nutrients and bioactive agents that can provide numerous benefits for newborns. Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are the third most abundant component, and are thought to be key to the protective role conferred by breast milk. However, HMO quality and quantity can vary between women and at different stages postpartum, and there are still gaps in our understanding as to the causes of this heterogeneity. Furthermore, it is important to investigate whether HMOs can be added as a supplement to formula for infants who cannot breastfeed.
In a review published in the International Journal of Pediatrics, researchers from across India discussed previous studies that dealt with the variability in HMO content caused by lactation duration, gestation period, and maternal health. The authors also comprehensively reviewed the varied roles of HMOs as prebiotics, defenders against pathogens, anti-inflammatories, immune modulators, and signaling molecules.
The team concluded that HMOs could represent potential nutritional supplements for infants who cannot breastfeed. Given their significant immuno-protective benefits for vulnerable newborns, the authors consider them to be the next frontier in neonatal nutrition. However, they caution that there are still many unknowns, and significant research is required to identify the most appropriate HMOs for such supplements, and their optimal dose and duration.
This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Illustration by David Jury.