In infants, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) supplied to the baby via breastmilk are metabolized by Bifidobacteria species, especially B infantis. Babies that have this microbe and are breastfed and thereby obtain prebiotic HMOs experience better intestinal health with less colic and fussiness, are more likely to sleep through the night, have half as many bowel movements (average of 4/day reduced to 2/day), and have less asthma and ear infections, autoimmune diseases, are less likely to experience irritable bowel syndrome and obesity, and have higher intelligence quotients (IQs) as older children. Human breastmilk provides 10-15 grams HMOs per liter. (The average baby takes in around 4 cups or 32 ounces or approximately one liter of breastmilk per day.) In short, HMOs are crucial for childhood immune and neurological development. (Human milk is unique in containing abundant HMOs, the third most abundant ingredient in breastmilk and about 100-1000-fold greater quantities than cow’s milk that has almost none, a crucial difference.)
Synthetic formulas have recently added HMOs to their products. Consistent with some of the shady practices of this industry, the quantity contained in their products are not specified (just as the critical brain nutrient, docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, is also not specified despite its critical role in neurodevelopment). Preliminary evidence suggests that HMOs such as 2′-fucosyllactose (1.0 grams/liter) and lacto-N-neotetraose (0.5 grams/liter) added to synthetic formula causes an infant’s microbiome composition to better approximate that of breastfed infants and improves sleep, reduces colic, and reduces number of respiratory infections. In other words, HMOs added to synthetic formula partially compensate for the deficiencies of these formulations. If you have daughters, granddaughters or other females of childbearing age, you should bring them up-to-date on these issues, as the obstetricians and gynecologists, as with most conventional doctors, are woefully lacking in understanding of the microbiome and its crucial importance. In particular, it is worth adding HMOs to the diet of any child who is formula-fed.
I’ve previously discussed how restoring the microbe, B infantis, is beneficial not just for infants, but also to adults, with benefits that include reduction of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein, IL-6, and TNF-alpha in people with ulcerative colitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and psoriasis; reduced symptoms of celiac disease in people who experience continued symptoms despite following a gluten-free diet; reduction of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome; protection against upper respiratory viral infections; provides folate to complement dietary intake.
What happens when HMOs are tossed into the prebiotic fiber mix in adults? One of the interesting properties of HMOs is that they act as decoys, binding to the cell walls of many pathogenic species such as E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Entamoeba histolytica (cause of amebic dysentery), and Helicobacter pylori in the gut, impairing their ability to cause intestinal inflammation, diarrhea, and stomach ulcers. HMOs also result in marked increases in intestinal butyrate that nourishes and heals the intestinal lining and yields metabolic benefits such as reduced blood sugar, reduced insulin resistance, reduced blood pressure, and improved mood, mental health, and sleep. HMOs also improve the intestinal barrier that is dysfunctional or damaged in numerous GI health conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases. The first human clinical trial of HMO supplementation in adults (2′ fucosyllactose and lacto-N-neotetraose) have been shown to be well-tolerated by adults in doses of up to 20 grams per day and cause a marked increase in beneficial Bifidobacteria species in the GI microbiome, along with a reduction in Proteobacteria, the species of dysbiosis and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO.
Layer Origin Nutrition has made HMOs available as an important form of prebiotic fiber. I asked Layer Origin’s co-founder, Jason Zhang, PhD, a Cornell-trained scientist, why they chose the two HMOs that are in their products, 2′ fucosyllactose and lacto-N-neotetraose. He said that they aimed to provide the HMOs that are among the most plentiful that occur in human breastmilk that are known to cultivate Bifidobacteria in the intestinal microbiome, with the 2′ fucosyllactose typically comprising 30% of all HMOs. Layer Origin Nutrition PureHMO Prebiotic Powder contains the HMO 2′-fucosyllactose 1950 mg/scoop. Their PureHMO Tri-Prebiotic Powder with 2′-fucosyllactose, galactooligosaccharides, and inulin (fructooligosaccharides). I’ve been including HMOs in my mix of prebiotic fibers to increase butyrate production for all its metabolic benefits. Layer Origin is now a sponsor of my Defiant Health podcast. If you’d like to give HMOs a try, use discount code “DRDAVIS” (not case-sensitive) for a 10% discount and order here.