Scientists examine human breast milk component

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: A study by the University of Illinois has unravelled the strange way in which Oligosaccharides, the key component of human breast milk, protects a newborn.

It shows that Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMO), which is found only in human milk, produces fatty acids that feed and help inhabit good bacteria in the gut of an infant.

HMO not only protects the newborn against harmful bacteria in the short term, but also strengthens the baby`s immune system so that it can protect chr
onic health problems like food allergies and asthma.

“We refer to HMO as the fibre of human milk because we don’t have the enzymes to break down these compounds. They pass into the large intestine where the bacteria digests them.’

“We’re curious about the role they play in the development of the breast-fed infant’s gut bacteria because the bacteria found in the guts of formula-fed infants is different,” says Sharon Donovan, professor in nutrition and health at the University of Illinois.

The scientists while conducting the study, obtained breast milk from mothers of preterm infants at Chicago`s Rush University Medical Centre, and the HMOs were isolated and analyzed.

"When the HMOs were introduced, the bacteria produced short-chain fatty acids, at some cases at higher levels than other pre-biotics now used in infant formula. The short-chain fatty acids can be used as a fuel source for beneficial bacteria and also affect gastrointestinal development and pH in the gut, which reduces the number of disease-causing pathogens," she said.

The study, which has been published in the April issue of the Journal of Nutrition, has for the first time, shown that HMO produces patterns of short-chain fatty acids that change as the baby gets older.