October 14, 2021 18 min read
Human Milk Oligosaccharides (aka HMOs) are not well known among the general public. But you should expect to hear more about them in the near future. While this component of human breast milk has been looked at for more than a hundred years by scientists, the application seemed limited to infants for most of the last century.
However, as you may have recently learned, HMOs are now being produced specifically for adults, in formulations that are proven to provide support for gut health problems, the immune system, and cognitive functions.1
Typically, human breast milk exhibits this compositional profile:
The lactose, lipids, and proteins are nutritive - providing nourishment to the recipient, whereas the HMOs are bioactive but non-nutritive, as they are indigestible, but do support the gut microbiota.
The rise in probiotic bacteria supplements2 was an important advancement in health and nutrition3 since 2000, but more recently, the awareness of prebiotic has grown. HMO is perhaps the least known, but most effective prebiotic on the planet.
Other prebiotics exist, such as FOS, GOS, XOS, et al. but HMO has the greatest upside. For years, HMO was not really an option for adults. Access to HMO was limited to infants via breastfeeding. But that didn't stop scientific researchers from experimenting.4 Could there be a way to create a bio-identical HMO that would benefit adults (and kids and teens) the way the HMO in breast milk benefits infants?
After decades of research, the answer is yes!
HMO began appearing in big-brand infant formula circa 2016 5 with brands like Similac and Enfamil suddenly touting the presence of the gut, immune & brain-boosting ingredient in their products. So how did it happen?
After years of trial and error, scientists were able to take purified lactose, precisely ferment it through bacteria or yeast (kind of similar to the way in which wine is fermented), and then purify it further, resulting in an end product that was bio-identical to the HMO found in breastmilk. For example, PureHMO® Prebiotic from Layer Origin Nutrition is 98% pure 2'-Fucosyllactose (2'-FL). That variety of HMO (2'-FL) is usually the most prevalent variety of HMO in breast milk. In all, there are between 130-200 varieties of human milk oligosaccharides.6
There's still more research to be done on HMOs but it's clear that they are helping thousands of infants and adults right now and have abundant potential for future health and nutrition outcomes.
The following list is a collection of topics regarding HMOs that are filtered into various questions and answers.
Human Milk Oligosaccharides, "HMOs" for short, are a component of human breast milk. They are a class of molecules that are actually indigestible yet play a hugely important role in the composition of the milk.7
Scientists first identified a large fraction of non-lactose carbohydrate, which they called gynolactose in the 1930s.8 Its role remained unknown until the 1950s, when it was identified as the same entity as the bifidus factor.7 Chemical and biological breakthroughs later uncovered hundreds of these factors, of different lengths, which appeared to be there to feed the baby’s gut bacteria. This realization inspired the field, and research into the newly renamed 'human milk oligosaccharides' quickly advanced. By 2000, researchers discovered more than 100 HMOs, which provide food for Bifidobacterium andother bacteria species. The prebiotic effect of HMOs was proven, but it wasn’t the full story.1
By 2016 HMOs were in most name-brand baby formulas. Over the next five years they would begin to appear in supplements meant specifically for adults.
FOS, XOS, and GOS are oligosaccharides that usually contain only repeating sugar units such as fructose, xylose, and galactose. These are essentially the "old guard" when it comes to prebiotics.
HMOs on the other hand, also contain sugar units but in addition, they contain other functional groups like N-acetyl-glucosamine (GlcNAc), fucose (Fuc), and sialic acid (NeuAc).10Due to the unique structures, HMO-based prebiotics provide more health benefits to human than traditional prebiotic such as GOS and FOS.
Triple Functions: HMOs not only provide support for gut health, but also directly support the immune system and cognitive functions. For example, HMOs can restrict the binding of pathogen to human epithelial cells by acting as a decoy. HMOs have also been shown to provide fuel to brains and promote cognitive developments for infants.
Colostrum is the "first milk" or nutrient-rich "pre-milk" from mothers, which can feed babies in the first few days after they are born. So it's a fluid from the breast which is very nutritious and contains high levels of HMOs and antibodies - proteins that fight infections and bacteria.
HMOs are the oligosaccharides in the breast milk and are produced during the whole lactation period.9 HMO has unique properties that are proven to nourish human infants. [RELATED POST: Where can you get HMOs for adults? (Human Milk Oligosaccharides)]
Bovine colostrum has been used as a supplement for quite a while, whereas HMO is very new when it comes to use as a supplement for adults. The colostrum supplements on the market are mostly from cows. They contain very little amount of milk oligosaccharides.
People who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel disease (IBS) or another diagnosable gut health condition should seriously consider taking a human milk oligosaccharide supplement.11Anyone who feels like they have the symptoms of IBS but who has not been diagnosed should also think about taking an HMO supplement.12
Even people with zero gut health issues may benefit from an HMO product because of the ancillary benefits to the immune system and cognitive function.12
So, in theory, anyone could take an HMO supplement, but the primary use case is for those who want to improve the composition of their gut microbiome and ultimately their gut health.
That said, health gurus also advise that HMOs can lead to substantial weight loss because of how they steer calories that you consume in the gut.
Prebiotics and probiotics work in concert with each other. Prebiotics are the "food" for probiotics. It's important to have both and have them working together.13
Traditional human milk oligosaccharides are naturally present in human breast milk. The next generation of HMOs begin with high purity lactose that's fermented via bacteria or yeast (similar to the fermentation process for wine). HMOs go through many steps of purification to remove all other ingredients or bacteria, resulting in a final product that is more than 98% pure according to laboratory tests (the 98% purity level refers to Layer Origin Nutrition's PureHMO products).
Can you extract the oligosaccharides from cow’s milk? The oligosaccharides in cow's milk are structurally similar, not identical, to those in human milk, and their concentration is much lower. Researchers utilized filtration techniques to remove most of the lactose and salts from cow milk and increase the concentration of oligosaccharides. But overall, this process is not economical and it yields bovine milk oligosaccharides (BMO) instead of human milk oligosaccharides (HMO).
Some companies and researchers use engineered microbes to produce HMOs. They engineer microbes to introduce the enzymes necessary to produce HMOs. They use either the bacteria Escherichia coli, which is often used to produce proteins and metabolites, or the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, used in baking, winemaking and brewing. Companies typically focus on the production of 2’-Fucosyllactose (2-FL), which is one of the most abundant HMOs in human milk.
In general, Layer Origin Nutrition recommends that adults take:
The serving should be consumed at approximately the same time each day. However, the time of day does not particularly matter. HMO is indigestible so it can be taken with or without food.
People who are taking HMO capsules typically do so with a glass of water. People who take HMO powder can do so with any beverage.
For example, Layer Origin Nutrition's PureHMO® Prebiotic capsules have 1800 mg HMO per serving (3 capsules). For best results, Layer Origin recommends taking 1-2 capsules per day with four ounces of water for the first three to five days, prior to increasing to 3 capsules per day thereafter.
Layer Origin Nutrition's PureHMO Prebiotic powder contains 2000 mg of HMO per scoop. So someone taking the powder product would only need to take about one scoop per day. As fitness guru Joey Thurman could attest on his Fad or Future podcast, it is a very small scoop.
Layer Origin also offers a prebiotic probiotic combination: PureHMO® human milk oligosaccharides synbiotic. This product contains 1000 mg of HMO and 10 strains, 40 billion CFU of probiotics per serving (two capsules).
More details can be found on our Youtube channel :
In addition to 2'-Fucosyllactose, PureHMO Prebiotic capsules also contain hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose (HPMC vegetable capsules) and organic pea protein. Our capsules do NOT contain magnesium stearate and silica.
No. They are not isolated from human milk. Layer Origin Nutrition's HMOs are derived lactose (cow's milk).
It might be easier to think of it like Gatorade. Yes, the sports drink. Imagine if I asked you whether Gatorade is made from human sweat. Let's ask it: Is Gatorade made from human sweat? The answer of course, is "no". However, Gatorade does contain electrolytes and electrolytes can be found in human sweat.
Gatorade was created to mimic exactly what is lost when humans sweat so humans can drink it and replenish those missing electrolytes. So in essence, Gatorade is based on human sweat, contains some of the same components, and is designed to replace human sweat. However, Gatorade itself, does NOT contain any human sweat.
The short answer is, Yes. However, there is some background information that you should know.
Lactose Intolerance: Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder caused by the inability to digest lactose, the main carbohydrate in dairy products. People with lactose intolerance don't make enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest lactose. In fact, research has shown that many people with lactose intolerance can tolerate up to 12 grams of lactose in one sitting, which is approximately the amount in one cup (230 ml) of milk according to Healthline. For example, Layer Origin Nutrition recommends a total serving size of 2 g of HMO, therefore, even people with lactose intolerance can take their HMO without any problems.
Milk allergy: Some people are allergic to milk and it's milk proteins that are the component causing allergies. Although Layer Origin Nutrition tested its HMO and found zero detectable milk proteins in its HMO, they still put the following statement on their bottles to be cautious: "Contains: trace amount of lactose (milk).” We recommend people with a milk allergy only proceed with physician’s approval.
In fact many people add PureHMO Prebiotic powder to their coffee in the morning by just stirring it into their mug. The powder is virtually tasteless and mixes well with various liquid.
Prebiotics are indigestible sugars and it will not be compromised by the high temperature. You can also add PureHMO prebiotic into hot tea, hot cocoa, hot chocolate, hot soup, and hot oatmeal.
Yes - Ben Greenfield, and Joey Thurman have all spoken about the vast array of benefits associated with supplementing with human milk oligosaccharides. Greenfield had Greene on his podcast as a guest in July 2020 to discuss HMOs.
Then, Greenfield hosted Greene again on The Ben Greenfield podcast in January 2021. On both occasions Greene evangelized HMOs, discussing the research behind their efficacy, his approach to taking them, and how people used to try to get HMOs into their system prior to supplements like those made by Layer Origin Nutrition.
Celebrity trainer and food and nutrition expert, Joey Thurman (CPT, FNS, CES) has been taking PureHMO Prebiotic powder from Layer Origin Nutrition and recently spoke about his belief in the product on his podcast, Fad or Future.
Yes - Dr. Rhonda Patrick (PhD) and Dr. Will Bulsiewicz (MD, MSCI) both recommend human milk oligosaccharides for adults. Patrick talked about the amazing power of HMOs during her interview with Joe Rogan. Bulsiewicz discussed HMOs during his interview with Rich Roll. Bulsiewicz is known as "The Gut Health MD" and has a large following on Instagram. He may be best known for his book "Fiber Fueled".
Yes! In numerous clinical studies conducted at top universities and laboratories across the world, literally thousands of adults have taken HMOs, at doses even greater than the 2000 mg per day recommended by Layer Origin Nutrition. There were no problems with regard to safety or severe side effects.
Human breast milk contains three major HMO types:
One of the most common and prominent human milk oligosaccharides is called 2'-Fucosyllactose or 2'-FL for short. This HMO is just one of between 100 to 200 HMOs in all. Here is a list of some of the known HMOs: 2′-FL, LNnT, 3'-FL, LNT, LNFP-I, 6'SL, LNFP-III, DSLNT, LDFT, LSTc, 3'SL, LNFP-II, LST-a, LST, LNDFH-II, LNFP-V
Simply stated: 2'-FL is the most abundant HMO in human milk. Therefore it is often found in baby formula and more recently, in human milk oligosaccharide supplements designed for adults, like the flagship line offered by Layer Origin Nutrition.
Every product in Layer Origin Nutrition's line of gut health supplements for adults contains 2'-Fucosyllactose but the amount varies in each product as follows:
Akkermansia (akkermansia muciniphila) is a beneficial microbe that can affect your glucose metabolism, lipid metabolism, and intestinal immunity, according to multiple reports.10
Research has indicated that particular food ingredients, such as HMO, polyphenols, may increase the abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila in the gut. Its name comes from the name of microbial ecologist Antoon Akkermans and the characteristic of “preferring mucin”. Thus, we arrive at Akkermansia muciniphila (Akkermansia). It accounts for one to four percent of intestinal bacteria in adults and is a species of bacteria that inhabits the large intestine.
Recent studies have indicated that Akkermansia is involved in obesity, glucose metabolism, and intestinal immunity. It mainly resides in the intestinal mucosa, an interface between the gut microbiome and host tissues.11
HMO, grapes, cranberries, red apple skins, and pomegranates may all be able to increase the abundance of Akkermansia in your body.
For those who don't know, let's define FODMAP: FODMAPs are carbohydrates found in specific foods, including beans and wheat.
Some studies have shown substantial connections between FODMAPs and digestive problems such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea and constipation.
Diets that are low in FODMAPs can provide tremendous benefits for many people with the typical digestive disorders.
FODMAP actually stands for “fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols”.
These are short-chain carbs that are resistant to digestion. Instead of being absorbed into your bloodstream, they reach the far end of your intestine where most of your gut bacteria reside.
Your gut bacteria then use these carbs for fuel, producing hydrogen gas and causing digestive symptoms in sensitive individuals.
FODMAPs also draw liquid into your intestine, which may cause diarrhea.
Common FODMAPs include:
Here is a list of some common foods and ingredients that are high in FODMAPs:
The answer is - YES.
This is because not every oligosaccharide is covered by the "O" in FODMAP. The FODMAP oligosaccharides typically contain sugar, fructose, and are found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, etc. The FODMAP oligosaccharides are digested by a great number of intestinal bacteria, many of which produce gases that generate symptoms such as bloating.
Human milk oligosaccharides on the other hand, do not contain fructose. Additionally, because of their special structure, only a very small number of certain intestinal bacteria can digest them, and these specific bacteria are not known gas producers. This is proven by clinical studies where HMOs actually reduced gas and bloating.14
Human Milk Oligosaccharides are a prebiotic and we know that prebiotics work hand in hand with probiotics. For people who already have enough probiotic bacteria in their gut, supplementing with a prebiotic is sufficient. But for people who they do not have enough of either probiotic bacteria in their gut, it makes sense to supplement with both prebiotics and probiotics.
Layer Origin Nutrition does have a product that is both prebiotic and probiotic. That product comes in a capsule form and has 40 Billion CFU of probiotics (10 different strains) along with 1000 mg of HMO.
Over the last 10 years the major baby formula makers began to add something called "HMO" into their formulas. HMO stands for Human Milk Oligosaccharide, which is a prebiotic complex sugar that is found naturally in human breast milk. The formula brands describe their HMO ingredient as:
Internet searches for "HMO baby formula" increased dramatically at the start of 2017 as the acronym "HMO" began to show up on baby formula labels inside grocery stores.
The companies use qualifying terms such as "modeled after ... breast milk", "inspired by breast milk", and "like that found in breast milk" because there is not actually any real breast milk inside their products. So claiming that there is HMO that comes from real breast milk inside the baby formulas would be false.
However, the companies are saying very clearly that these products contain HMO. So how can the formulas contain HMO, something native to real breast milk, if there is no real breast milk in the products? It seems like a contradiction.
The answer is that science has come a long way. These companies have used various scientific processes such as high-tech purification and precise fermentation to create molecules that are considered to be bio-identical to the HMOs in human milk. The companies are starting with lactose from cow's milk and using fermentation, purification and some other techniques to arrive at something that is molecularly the same as what you'd find in human milk, when it comes to HMO.
Why are these companies going through all of this effort to put HMO inside their formulas and to market it so heavily? It's because they know the health benefits that HMO can provide to humans.
Enfamil touts the immune-system benefit of HMO for infants and Similac describes their formula as "a prebiotic that helps strengthen the immune system to be more like the breastfed infant than ever before".
There is ample scientific research and study proving that when both HMO from breast milk and bio-identical HMO is given to humans, there are clear cut benefits when it comes to their gut lining and gut health, immune system, and even cognitive and motor function.
Part of the beauty of bio-identical HMO is that it is safe for people who are lactose intolerant. This is because it is purified so heavily. Similac writes the following about their HMO baby formula: "Suitable for infants with lactose sensitivity".
HMO supplements for adults, like the PureHMO from Layer Origin, is also safe for people with lactose intolerance.
No. Once Human Milk Oligosaccharides are at the point when they are being sold as a supplement (in powder form, be it in a jar or inside capsules), they have already been fermented and purified and are completely "shelf stable" and do not need to be refrigerated. However, it is important to keep them out of direct sunlight and away from other potentially intense heat sources.
2’-FL (2’-Fucosyllactose) is the most abundant HMO and is a human intrinsic prebiotic which fosters gut and immune health. Many further benefits are currently being researched. Some varieties of Similac formula do contain 2'-Fucosyllactose.
The company that produces Similac Pro-Advance, Similac Pro-Sensitive, and Similac Pro-Total Comfort writes that they are "the first baby formulas with 2’-FL HMO (human milk oligosaccharide), a unique immune-nourishing prebiotic."
However, Similac does not appear to reveal exactly how much 2'-FL is in its products. It does list 2'-FL under the ingredients section as part of the "less than 2%" category. So it seems like there is not a vast amount of 2'-FL in the formula.
The various types of bacteria found in the gut microbiome can have different impacts depending on the person and a host of other factors. However, one type of bacteria believed to be present in people who are lean is called "Bifidobacteria" and “Akkermansia (discuss above)”.
Bifidobacterium is a genus which dominates the intestine of healthy breast-fed infants whereas in adulthood the levels are lower but relatively stable. The presence of different species of bifidobacteria changes with age, from childhood to old age. Bifidobacterium longum, B. breve, and B. bifidum are generally dominant in infants, whereas B. catenulatum, B. adolescentis and, as well as B. longum are more prevalent in adults. Increasingly, evidence is accumulating which shows beneficial effects of supplementation with bifidobacteria for the improvement of human health conditions ranging from protection against infection to different extra- and intra-intestinal positive effects.15
BIFIDOBACTERIA AND WEIGHT
A study of 135 people with significant amounts of belly fat found those who took Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis daily for 3 months lost significantly more belly fat and had reduced BMI and waist circumference, compared with those taking a placebo. These results were especially pronounced in women.16
A number of people have asked this question because SIBO is something pretty serious and they are worried about possibly "rocking the boat" by adding another prebiotic (foods for bacteria) into the mix.
HMO prebiotics can selectively enrich the beneficial bacteria, like bifidobacteria in your gut, especially in your large intestine and lower small intestines.
The growth of beneficial bacteria can in turn inhibit the growth of bad bacteria in the gut. The dosage in the Layer Origin Nutrition PureHMO® line of products is designed to help people in general. Thus, it is very safe for you to take PureHMO and see how it impacts the SIBO situation.
Third-party laboratory testing showed that PureHMO does not contain any intact milk proteins (below the detection limit of milk proteins, from the FARRP allergen testing agency).
FARRP, founded by Steve Taylor, was established in 1995 as an industry-funded consortium and cooperative venture between the University of Nebraska and seven founding industry charter members. Today, FARRP has more than 105 member companies, 8 Faculty members, more than 25 staff members and several graduate students.
Despite the test results, people with milk allergies should still only proceed with a physician's approval.
In short, HMO promotes the growth and presence of Bifidobacteria, which is characteristically present in people who are lean. People who are lean have much more of it in their systems.
It is believed that by increasing this type of bacteria, you are more likely to become lean.
Layer Origin Nutrition's HMO is gluten free and soy free. However, the HMO is not dairy-free because it is fermented from lactose (milk). They do not contain any GMO fragments because it is highly purified after the fermentation. It is not an organic product at this stage.
If you are only feeding your baby infant formula, just check the formula's package and see if it contains HMO (2'-FL). If the infant formula contains HMO (2'-FL or 2'-fucosyllactose), you do not need to add extra HMO into the baby's diet. If the formula does not contain HMO, you might want to switch to a brand containing HMO.
Now, if you are someone who:
1) Is unable to breastfeed or does not want to and 2) Cannot access an infant formula brand containing HMO
Then --- you might want to consider giving your infant a children’s HMO product only after getting the approval from your pediatrician. Currently, Layer Origin only offer a HMO product for children older than 1 year old.
Clinical studies showed that taking up to 10 g of HMO per day is generally well tolerated.
If you are taking Layer Origin Nutrition PureHMO® and want to increase the dosage, we recommend that you increase gradually from 2 g (1 scoop) to 4 g (2 scoops) and then upwards to 5-6 g if needed.
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