Mechanism explains diet-HMO role in boosting milk benefits

Writing in Nature Scientific Reports​, the team provide evidence suggesting changes to HMOs go on to modify the milk microbiome’s functions as well as forming a healthy gut microbiome in the newborn.

“HMOs are basically inert substances to a mother or her baby,”​ explains senior study author Dr Kjersti Aagaard, Professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor.

“However, they exert their health benefits by acting as food or fodder to microbes — both bacteria and some viruses.

“This appears to be an example where what we eat affects our microbes via an intermediate (the HMOs), which we make but don’t directly benefit from. It gives us a fascinating glimpse into what we and others believe is a natural co-evolution process.”

The milk microbiome plays a critical role in decreasing necrotizing enterocolitis, and later in life chronic diseases, and immune function.

Research looking into infant stool microbiome of breastfed newborns finds significant variation from formula fed babies, driven by the diverse microbial nutrients in human milk.

Despite its importance, very few studies have explored the impact of maternal diet on HMOs and the milk microbiome as well as how they alter the neonatal and infant gut microbiome.

Strong evidence points to HMOs beneficial role in infant health by encouraging beneficial bacteria growth, acting as “decoys” for pathogenic microbes, providing substrates essential for infant development, and establishing and maintaining the gut epithelial barrier.