Prebiotics in human breast milk are associated with infant weight

Human breast milk contains nutrients and compounds that are beneficial for infants. Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are a group of important complex carbohydrates that are found in breast milk. These HMOs are important in the developing infant because they serve as a prebiotic, helping to shape the infant’s gut microbiome by facilitating the selection of beneficial bacteria. The link between gut microbiota composition and infant obesity has led to speculation that HMOs might affect certain bacteria that in turn lead to decreased body fat. Because HMO composition of female breast milk varies over the course of lactation, researchers in Oklahoma and California tested to see whether differences in milk HMO content are associated with infant body weight. The results of their study were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Twenty-five mother-infant pairs participated in this study. On average, the mothers were 29.5 years of age and overweight before conception. When the infants were 1 month and 6 months old, the mothers supplied breast milk samples to test for HMO composition. Concurrently, the infants’ body fat composition, weight, and length were measured.

The findings suggest that HMOs are associated with infant body weight, fat mass, and lean mass at both 1 month and 6 months. A diversity of HMOs, such as LNFFPI (lacto-N-fucopentaose I, a sugar), DSLNT (difucosyl-LNT, a sugar), and FDSLNH (fucosyl-disialyl-lacto-N-hexaose, a sugar) accounted for 33% of the fat mass, which was more than other variables such as gender, and mothers’ pregnancy BMI. infant fat mass than did sex, pregnancy BMI.  LNFPI was inversely associated with 1 month old infant weight, while at 6 months it was inversely associated with weight, lean mass, and fat mass. Overall, the presence of a diverse group of HMOs decreased infant body mass.  While this study has its limitations because it does not specifically test the bacterial composition of the gut, it is a first step to identifying an association between HMOs and infant BMI. As obesity remains an epidemic in the United States, perhaps the microbiome is the first place to look towards to prevent the disease. 

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