New research has revealed a possible two-way connection between maternal dietary microbes and the makeup of the oligosaccharide sugar molecules found in human breast milk.
Until recently, it was thought that oligosaccharides affected the microbial communities within an infant’s gut, acting as prebiotics that then decreased their risk of certain infections, conditions and diseases. Studies showed that a woman’s genetics could determine the presence of between 23 and 130 oligosaccharides in her breast milk, and that the range of sugars was related to her blood type.[
However, a new Finnish study has shown that the probiotics that enter a woman’s digestive body orally may further affect her breast milk, changing which sugars occur within it. The study analyzed the breast milk 81 pregnant women, some of whom were administered probiotics, and others that were not, and found distinct oligosaccharide compositions in the milk of the two groups.
This study is important on a number of levels. It is the first time that a causal relationship has been discovered between friendly bacteria and human breast milk carbohydrate polymers. This breakthrough could have great consequences for infant as well as general human health. Breast milk oligosaccharides play a key role in the healthy development of an infant’s immune system and directly affect the child’s ability to fight ill health. For example, some of the sugars in question have been associated many benefits, including a reduced incidence of diarrhea, gastroenteritis, respiratory tract infections and other immune-mediated and infectious diseases during the first few years of life, as well as the promotion of immune development and inflammatory response regulation.[
The Finnish study has cast light on the potential for future investigation into how food and probiotic use could facilitate disease and allergy prevention and promote overall infant health.