Impact on Gut Health

HMO and gut health

The Gut-Wellness Connection

The breakdown of complex macromolecules in foods to absorbable nutrients is accomplished by the mouth, stomach, and gut. Trillions of bacteria live inside the human gut.

These microbes perform a variety of duties: producing vitamins B and K, breaking down dietary fiber, facilitating the absorption of nutrients, and shaping the ecosystem in our gut.

In past decades, numerous research studies have demonstrated links between gut microbiota and the immune system, mood, cognitive function, metabolic rate, and even the way we age.

Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) Promote a Healthy Gut Microbiome

Human Milk Oligosaccharides are the third most abundant component found in mother’s milk. HMOs are non-nutritive, but play an essential role in the health of breast-fed infants. The majority of HMOs reach the colon largely undigested and unabsorbed, where they feed beneficial bacteria and help them thrive. Like humans, the probiotics in our gut also need their favorite foods to thrive. HMO is the perfect food for them.

HMO inhibits the binding of pathogens to epithelial cell. Viruses or bacteria must attach to epithelial cell surfaces to proliferate. Usually, the first attachment is to epithelial sugars – glycans – on the cell surface. HMOs resemble the structures of some glycan and serve as soluble luring receptors and block the pathogen and viruses binding to epithelial cells. As a result, unbound pathogens/viruses are unable to attach to the cell surface and are excreted without causing disease.

Fucosylated HMOs have received attention for their anti-adhesive effects on pathogens by preventing attachment to the intestinal wall. Sialylated HMOs are also able to mimic pathogen receptors and inhibit the binding of pathogens to cell surface receptors by acting as soluble decoy receptors, which reduces diarrheal disease.

HMO promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut

HMOs play a major role in promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria.

Bifidobacteria is one of the most important probiotics since the early stage of lifespan that help prevent infection and produce vitamins and other important nutrients.

The probiotics also benefit the body by excluding potential pathogens from colonizing the gut. The gut microbiome of breastfed infants is typically dominated by bifidobacterial species, particularly by Bifidobacterium infantis.

HMO helps produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)

HMOs are fermented by the gut bacteria and metabolized into SCFAs: acetate, propionate, butyrate and lactate, which are essential nutrients for our gut cells and help promote an acidic environment in guts.

SCFAs may reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other conditions.

  • SCFAs are the main source of nutrition for the cells in the colon.
  • SCFAs function as an important regulator to lower the pH of the lumen and create an acidic environment favoring the growth of beneficial bacteria and mineral absorption.
  • SCFAs are found to impact the pathway of how energy is metabolized in the body, and thus, a possible protective effect against metabolic disease and obesity.

HMO Improves IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort and altered bowel function. Research has shown that the gut microbiota of patients with IBS lack a healthy abundance of bifidobacteria.

Supplementation with HMOs has previously been shown to increase the abundance of bifidobacteria, in healthy infants, children, healthy adults, and in adults with IBS. HMOs support gut health and improve symptoms of IBS in multiple ways.

  • Promote the growth of beneficial bacteria
  • Relief from stomach pain, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Provide beneficial bacteria with a growth advantage compared with potential pathogens
  • Strengthen intestinal wall
  • Less irritability
  • Modulate host-epithelial immune responses and prevent the binding of pathogenic bacteria and viruses to the gut

Clinical Trials on Patients with IBS

Based on clinical studies in patients with IBS, 2 types of HMOs, 2'-fucosyllactose (2'FL), and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT), could support normal bowel function in adults suffering from IBS without causing tolerance or safety issues.

They may also, through modulation of intestinal microbiota and associated metabolites, improve general gut health resulting in better management of IBS-related symptoms and overall wellbeing.

The development of gut microbial community is important to health and wellness. There is a growing acceptance in the medical community for recommending microbiota-directed therapies. By promoting beneficial bacteria diversity, and preventing pathogen attachment, HMOs are thought to play a crucial role beyond the early stage of human life.

Clinical Trial #1

  • Publication title:Human Milk Oligosaccharides Support Normal Bowel Function and Improve Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Multicenter, Open-Label Trial
  • Conducted by: Center for Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
  • HMO Studied: 2’FL and LNnT in a 4:1 mix
  • Participants:245
  • Results:Patients had a significant improvement from baseline to 12 weeks in total percentage of bowel movements with abnormal stool consistency (90.7% vs 57.2% , P < 0.0001), overall IBS Symptom Severity Score (323 vs 144, P < 0.0001) and health-related quality of life (50.4 vs 74.6, P < 0.0001).

Clinical Trial #2

  • Publication title: Human milk oligosaccharide supplementation in irritable bowel syndrome patients: A parallel, randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled study
  • Conducted by: Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • HMO studied: 2’FL and LNnT in a 4:1 mix
  • Participants: 60
  • Results: The supplementation of 10 g HMOs significantly decreased the abdominal pain score at week 8 (9.3 vs 7.6, P<0.05); and induced an increase in the beneficial Bifidobacterium spp. without aggravating gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with IBS
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