July 23, 2023 3 min read
Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are a type of prebiotic that have gained significant attention in recent years due to their potential health benefits. HMOs are structurally complex carbohydrates that are naturally present in human milk and are not found in any other mammalian milk. HMOs have been shown to have a prebiotic effect in the gut, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and supporting gut health. In comparison to other prebiotic sources such as galactooligosaccharides (GOS), fructooligosaccharides (FOS), inulin, and resistant starch, HMOs have unique structural and functional properties that make them stand out as a superior prebiotic source.
HMOs are structurally complex carbohydrates composed of different types of monosaccharides, including glucose, galactose, N-acetylglucosamine, and fucose, with varying linkages between the monosaccharides. These structural differences result in a variety of HMO isomers that differ in their degree of branching and length of the carbohydrate chain. Research has shown that HMOs are resistant to digestion in the upper gastrointestinal tract and reach the colon intact, where they are fermented by gut bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and gases such as hydrogen and methane. These SCFAs have been shown to have beneficial effects on gut health, including reducing inflammation, supporting the gut barrier, and regulating immune function.
GOS, FOS, inulin, and resistant starch are also commonly used prebiotics that have been shown to promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. GOS are composed of galactose units linked by a β-1,4 bond, while FOS and inulin are composed of fructose units linked by β-2,1 bonds and β-2,1 and β-2,6 bonds, respectively. Resistant starch is a type of starch that is not broken down by digestive enzymes in the small intestine and reaches the colon intact, where it is fermented by gut bacteria to produce SCFAs.
While GOS, FOS, inulin, and resistant starch have been shown to have prebiotic effects, they differ from HMOs in several ways.
First, the structure of HMOs is more complex than that of other prebiotics, allowing for a greater diversity of bacterial species to be stimulated. HMOs have been shown to promote the growth of bifidobacteria, which are considered beneficial for gut health, as well as other bacterial species that have been associated with reduced risk of allergies and infections.
Second, HMOs are specific to humans and are not found in any other mammalian milk, while GOS, FOS, inulin, and resistant starch are found in various plant and animal sources. This makes HMOs a unique prebiotic source that is specifically tailored to the needs of human infants.
Third, HMOs have been shown to have additional health benefits beyond their prebiotic effects. For example, some HMOs have been shown to have anti-infective properties, inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria and viruses, and promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria. HMOs have also been shown to support immune function, regulate gut inflammation, and improve gut barrier function.
Finally, HMOs have been extensively studied in human clinical trials, demonstrating their safety and efficacy in promoting gut health in both infants and adults. While GOS, FOS, inulin, and resistant starch have also been studied in clinical trials, the evidence for their effectiveness is not as strong as that for HMOs.
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