Human milk oligosaccharides: breastmilk sugars that facilitate a healthy infant gut


[Erica]:So babies that are fed formula, their
microbiota looks very different than breast milk. Actually what we see is breast milk has a
component of it. One of the major components of breast milk
is this type of carbohydrate called human milk oligosaccharides or HMOs. For a long time, it was really a mystery why
those molecules were there because we knew that humans can’t digest human milk oligosaccharides. So why would a mother put so much effort into
creating these compounds and putting them in her milk if her baby can’t even digest
it? We’ll come to find out it’s actually the gut
microbes that are digesting these HMOs. So in breast milk, there’s not just food for
the baby in the form of lactose and fats, but these HMOs that are food for the baby’s
growing microbiota. So the mother’s feeding the baby and also
her baby’s growing microbiota. And these HMOs are very specific for human
milk and so far have not been able to be replicated in formula. And so that, we think is a large reason why
the communities are so different. And then of course antibiotics, the average
American child is on a round of antibiotics every year, and we know that makes a huge
impact on that growing community. So all these things that happen early in life
could really set a child on a trajectory potentially for having potentially a very good, healthy,
robust microbiota or potentially one that isn’t as good. So I think as parents especially of new children,
we need to be very mindful of the choices that we make early in a child’s life because
many of these microbes that we have by the time, say, the age of five, many of these
microbes will be with us throughout our entire lives so we really want get that community
started in the best possible way.

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