Human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) is not just for babies anymore

Not only is the milk as a whole touted as exceptionally beneficial for babies, but there are little known components called human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) that 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 increased gut microbiota health by keeping infections, viruses, and inflammations at bay.

And for adults?

With the discovery of how beneficial these HMOs were to babies, thought turned to the possibility of HMOs assisting the general public stricken with an imbalanced gut microbiota. This imbalance is an overabundance of bad, or harmful, bacteria that can cause a variety of problems in adults, namely viruses, and bowel and metabolic issues; metabolic issues include obesity and diabetes.

Could HMOs to help adults? You bet it could, and it, in fact, did. HMOs are now available as dietary supplements and help adults every day by promoting happy gut microbiota aiding in a positive quality of life. 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—the doses varied between 5, 10 or 20g. Scientists noted that in some of these healthy adults, the Bifidobacterium increased by more than 25 percent, while the bad guys, 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. In addition, the studies 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

Let’s first talk about the nutshell. 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 much the same way in that it inhibiting the bad germs.

Studies also indicate that HMOs have success in battling Entamoeba histolytica, (E. histolytica) a common parasite that hosts on 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 token resources. HMOs is an ideal preventative and therapeutic weapon against so many intestinal issues, including those mentioned here.

In addition, there are well over 100 HMOs, which open endless possibilities as to how these little-known carbohydrates previously known only to babies, can help adults battle agonizing and chronic gut issues, in addition to a multitude of other problems.

We all know that money talks and speaks volumes. DowDuPont invested $40 million to boost production of synthetic HMOs and its estimated that the adult supplement market could reach $1 billion in the future. This is a good sign that HMO adult supplements are here to stay, and the market will only grow as the benefits become more widely known.

Check out more scientific info on 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.”

Marcobal, A et al. (2010). Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. “Consumption of human milk oligosaccharides by gut-related microbes. 5334-5340.



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