Human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) is not just for babies anymore
Not only is human milk touted as exceptionally beneficial for babies, but there are also little known components within, called human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which aid in surprising ways.
These complex carbohydrates—most notably two in particular, fucosyllactose (2’-FL) and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT)— present in the breast milk of most nursing mothers, aid in a healthy infant gastrointestinal system by feeding the beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium.
This feeding, or prebiotic action, allows the good bacteria to multiply, which then aids in enhanced gut microbiota health by keeping infections, viruses, and inflammations at bay.
Is it really good for adults?
With the discovery of how beneficial these HMOs were to babies, researchers began investigating the possibility of HMOs assisting the older populations, who may be stricken with an imbalanced gut microbiota.
Imbalance comes from an overabundance of bad, or harmful, bacteria that can cause a variety of problems in adults including viruses, bowel issues, and metabolic problems such as obesity and diabetes.
Could HMOs help adults? Thankfully, the research proved that they can. HMOs are now available as dietary supplements and help adults every day by promoting healhty gut microbiota aiding in a positive quality of life. Numerous studies on adults helped this movement gain a foothold.
In a prominent analysis, 2’-FL and/or LNnT were given to 100 adults for two weeks—with doses varied between 5g, 10g or 20g. Scientists noted that in some of these healthy adults, the Bifidobacterium increased by more than 25 percent, while the bad bacteria, Firmicutes and Proteobacteria, were reduced.
Studies indicate that low levels of Bifidobacterium have been reported in obese and diabetic people, as well as those who are taking antibiotics and those who suffer from a variety of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBS).
The studies also noted that the subjects taking daily doses of 2’-FL and LNnT, at the 20g level, had no issues with the dosage amount. All in all, this boost in the good bacteria indicated that these HMOs helped adults increase beneficial bacteria that could combat a variety of health issues.
A deeper look at how HMOs can help your gut
In ingesting HMOs, the beneficial Bifidobacterium numbers increase, overpowering the harmful bacteria and effectively eradicating the detrimental microbes from the gut microbiota. These harmful bacteria might cause small and large intestine inflammation, which leads to diarrhea, extreme stomach pain, fever, vomiting and headaches. While not common, it can also lead to complications such as Guillain-Barre syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome.
While the two most studied HMOs are 2’-FL and LNnT, another HMO, Sialyllactose (3’-FL) is also gaining traction. It acts in much the same way in that it inhibits bad germs.
Studies also indicate that HMOs have been successful in battling Entamoeba histolytica (E. histolytica), a common parasite that hosts in nearly 50 million people worldwide with a death rate of 100,000 a year. It is largely transmitted through the fecal-oral route and hits areas of extreme climate change that have limited resources. HMOs are an ideal preventative and therapeutic weapon against many intestinal issues, including the aforementioned problems.
There are well over 200 HMOs, which open endless possibilities as to how these little-known carbohydrates, can help adults battle agonizing and chronic gut issues, in addition to a multitude of other problems.
We all know that money talks: DowDuPont invested $40 million to boost its production of synthetic HMOs and it's estimated that the adult supplement market could reach $1 billion in the future. This seems to be a sign that HMO adult supplements are here to stay, and that the market will only grow as the benefits become more widely known.
Check out some of the scientific background of HMOs presented in this video:
Adams, C., Gutierrez, B. (2018) Nutrafoods. “The benefits of human milk oligosaccharides in adult nutrition.” (17:169-173). DOI 10.17470/NF-018-1021-4
Garrido, D., Thomson, P. (2017) Dairy in Human Health and Disease Across the Lifespan. “Human Milk Oligosaccharides and Health Promotion Through the Gut Microbiome.” doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809868-4.00005-4
Marcobal, A et al. (2010). Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. “Consumption of human milk oligosaccharides by gut-related microbes. 5334-5340. doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-809868-4.00005-4