Dietary oligosaccharides could boost infant nutrition and immunity

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Consumption of oligosaccharides from food sources, rather than solely from breast milk, could help to boost childhood nutrition and immunity, reducing the risk of food allergy and dermatitis, says a new review.

The research review, published in the European Journal of Pharmacology​, reports that results from previous studies – in either animal models or from clinical trials – show that dietary intervention with short chain non-digestible carbohydrate polymers from food early in life could lead to the prevention of the development of food allergy, allergic asthma or atopic dermatitis.

“It is thought that the immune modulating effect of these oligosaccharides are mediated either via modification of the intestinal microflora or in a microbiota-independent manner by direct interaction on cells of the immune system,”​ said the researchers, led by Anneke Rijnierse from the University of Utrecht, and Danone Research - Centre for Specialised Nutrition, Wageningen, both in The Netherlands.

“Due to their complexity, oligosaccharides with structures identical to human milk oligosaccharides are not available as dietary ingredients,”​ said the researchers

“Searching for alternatives similar to the effects of human milk oligosaccharides, a mixture of neutral short chain galacto-oligosaccharides and long chain fructo-oligosaccharides has been identified as effective during infancy,”​ they added.

Infant nutrition

Breast feeding is considered as the best nutrition for growth and development of an infant, because human milk consists of a unique combination of nutritional components each with different characteristics.

Oligosaccharides –non-digestible carbohydrates – as one of these components, are generally accepted to have a beneficial effect by selectively stimulating the growth and activity of certain bacterial species.

“Recently more evidence is rising for direct effects of oligosaccharides on the immune system. Oligosaccharides often used as dietary supplements for their beneficial effects on the host and its immune system, are derived from nutritional sources,”​ said the authors.

The researchers said that the review aimed to summarize the beneficial properties of food-borne oligosaccharides during early in life.

Rijnierse and her concluded that there is much evidence to show that the beneficial, pharmaceutical like, properties of oligosaccharides are “very promising,”​ and said that such dietary interventions warrant further study.

They noted that such interventions could lead to the prevention of the development of food allergy, allergic asthma, atopic dermatitis, rhinitis and asthma, by modulation of the gut microflora and immune system.

Source: European Journal of Pharmacology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2011.07.009
“Food-derived oligosaccharides exhibit pharmaceutical properties”
Authors: A. Rijnierse, P.V. Jeurink, J. Garssen, L. M.J. Knippels

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