Unlocking the anti-inflammatory power of breast milk

By Louisa Richards

- Last updated on GMT

'By defining the role of the HMOS, it helps to understand how human milk protects infants, which has been used by breastfeeding advocates to say human milk is really good for babies,' says researcher. © iStock.com
'By defining the role of the HMOS, it helps to understand how human milk protects infants, which has been used by breastfeeding advocates to say human milk is really good for babies,' says researcher. © iStock.com

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Researchers have urged further investigation into the anti-inflammatory of galactosyllactoses, which are present in human breast milk during late pregnancy but rapidly decline over early lactation. 

Synthetically produced galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) have some of the same galactosyllactose species as human milk and can reduce inflammatory reactions to infection such as Salmonella ​and Listeria​ in laboratory tests, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition​ using Classado’s patented Bimuno GOS complex.

“The reason we tested GOS was we wanted to know the biological function of this natural human milk oligosaccharide and because it was not available isolated we used the mixture GOS that was donated to us, and it turns out that maybe almost half of the oligosaccharides in this preparation are the three that are found in human milk,” ​author Dr David Newburg from Boston College told NutraIngredients.

“In fact it inhibited inflammation very strongly, accounting for some of the activity in human milk, the activity that could be attributed to this galactosyllactose. We of course used GOS in higher concentrations than we used the human milk oligosaccharides and they showed equivalent activity,” ​he said.​ 

The researchers say further investigation may lead to protection and gut support for infants who can’t be breast fed through use in infant formula, or adults with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Galactosyllactoses are components of the HMOS of colostrum, a form of milk produced by mammals in late pregnancy. Researching their specific functions can be difficult as colostrum is a limited and ethically questionable source.

Previous research suggests HMOS prevent damage caused by an inflammatory reaction to newly colonising bacteria in the newborn’s gut.

‘My goal is to protect infants’

Speaking about the implications of his research, Dr Newburg said: “My overarching goal is to protect infants, and by defining the role of the HMOS, it helps to understand how human milk protects infants, which has been used by breastfeeding advocates to say human milk is really good for babies and it will be used by the formula companies to make a better infant formula to protect those babies that are not able to be breastfed.”

Dr Newburg told us he would also be testing GOS from Dutch supplier FrieslandCampina Ingredients in the future.

Study details

Milk samples from three mothers during their first 21 days of lactation, and colostrum samples from 38 mothers were used to determine a cross sectional sample of galactosyllactoses from donors in the Boston area.

The galactosyllactose species were found to decline over time and the highest concentration was 6’-galactosyllactose, with 3’-galactosyllactose and 4’-galactosyllactose present at lower concentrations.

The galactosyllactoses content of the commercially synthesised GOS powder was analysed and 48% of the trisaccharides shown were identical to the three galactosyllactoses of human colostrum. There were at least ten additional minor trisaccharide species present.

The authors said a 5 mg GOS/mL solution approximated the physiological range of early human colostrum and was deemed an appropriate concentration for exploring possible biological activities. 

Immature foetal intestinal and mature intestinal tissue was treated with pro-inflammatory molecules and infected with Salmonella ​or Listeria, ​and the ability of HMOS or synthetic GOS to attenuate inflammation was measured in vitro and in foetal tissue ex vivo.

Both HMOS and GOS inhibited the inflammatory agents responding to the Salmonella ​or Listeria ​infection.

The authors said the multiple in vitro models used were congruent in indicating that activation of NFkB - a key protein involved in immune modulation - was inhibited by HMOS and GOS.

NF-kB activation is the critical step of inflammatory signal transduction, providing a common mechanism whereby HMOS and GOS could reduce both chemokine-induced pro-inflammatory signalling and pathogen-induced inflammation,​” they wrote.


Source: Journal of Nutrition​ 

Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3945/jn.115.220749 

Human milk oligosaccharides and synthetic galactosyloligosaccharides contain 3’-,4-, & 6’-galactosyllactose and attenuate inflammation in human T84, NCM-460, H4 cells, and intestinal tissue ex vivo” 

Authors: D.S. Newburg, J.Sung Ko. S. Leone and N. N. Nanthakumar 

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