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Nutrition Spotlight: Innovation at Work

Posted on Apr. 4th, 2011 at 11:45am

Mead Johnson is dedicated to increasing scientific knowledge about pediatric nutrition and the important role early nutrition plays in infants and young children’s lives.

Mead Johnson’s scientists are continuously working on rigorous nonclinical and clinical studies – both independently and in collaboration with leading academic institutions – to better understand human milk and how nutrient content of the early feeding period can be optimized. Mead Johnson uses findings from such research to further enhance the quality, availability and acceptability of nutritious foods for infants and young children around the world.

Striving to Meet the Gold Standard

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months of life. Human milk – the gold standard for infant nutrition – provides the protein, fat and carbohydrate that infants need, as well as a multitude of other important components that help an infant grow and thrive.

While scientists have long known the major components that make up human milk, research continues to reveal important functions of these components and their mechanism of action. For example, new information is emerging on the benefits of specific prebiotics and certain long-chain fatty acids when incorporated into the daily diet. Mead Johnson’s research in these and other areas contribute to health care professionals’ understanding of the elements in human milk and their affect on infant health.

Enhancing Digestion and Immunity with Prebiotics

Scientific research, conducted at Mead Johnson and at various academic institutions, has demonstrated that certain complex components in human milk – human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) – help improve an infant’s digestive health and immunity.

HMOs generally are digestion-resistant carbohydrates, which act as prebiotics providing food for beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics are important for the growth and development of a healthy digestive tract.

Researchers have found the following connections between prebiotics and infant gastrointestinal health:

  • Softer stool. Babies who consume human milk or formula with prebiotics produce softer, looser stool than babies who consume unsupplemented formula.[i] Softer stool helps to promote a baby’s general comfort and can help prevent constipation.

  • Increased beneficial bacteria. Babies who are fed human milk or formula with prebiotics experience a significant increase in the growth of two beneficial types of bacteria: bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, compared to babies who are fed unsupplemented formula.[ii] These aid in digestion and help promote the overall health of the digestive tract.

  • Improved immune function. The digestive tract is a key part of immunological health. A number of studies have shown a link between prebiotic intake and improved immune function in infants, including reduced incidence of infections, fever episodes, dermatitis and allergies.[iii],[iv],[v],[vi]

Optimizing Neurological Development with Long-chain Fatty Acids

Research has demonstrated that two types of fatty acids, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), are essential for optimal neurological development.

While brain development continues well into the teen years, the majority of brain growth occurs at the beginning of life. In the last trimester of pregnancy, a fetus’ brain grows 260 percent; between birth and the first two years of life, a baby’s brain grows 175 percent.[vii] The building blocks for this rapid brain growth include DHA and ARA.

Researchers have found the following connections between DHA and ARA and developmental outcomes:

  • Research has shown that pre-term infants who receive human milk or formula with DHA and ARA demonstrate better developmental outcomes than those who receive formulas deficient in DHA and ARA.[viii] The developmental outcomes that are enhanced include cognitive, language, fine motor abilities and gross motor skills.

  • Visual acuity, which reflects the smallest detail that can be recognized by the brain, represents another important and specific indicator of neurological development. Researchers have demonstrated that infants fed formula with DHA and ARA at certain levels have a visual acuity more similar to breastfed infants versus those infants in the same studies fed formula without DHA and ARA.[ix]

The Nutrition Spotlight is part of a continuing series of brief articles compiled by the Mead Johnson research team about common topics in infant nutrition. All topics can be found by visiting the Nutrition and Your Child page.


[i] Zielger E., Vanderhoof J.A., Petschow B., et al. Term infants fed formula supplemented with selected blends of prebiotics grow normally and have soft stools similar to those reported for breast-fed infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2007;44:359-364.

[ii] Moro G., Inoli I., Mosca M., et al. Dosage-related bifidogenic effects of galacto- and fructooligosaccharides in formula-fed term infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2002;34:291-291.

[iii] Bakker-Zierikzee A.M., van Tol E.A.F., Kores H. Alles M.S., Kok F.J, Bindels J.G. Faecal SigA secretion in infants fed on pre- or probiotic infant formula. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2006;17:134-140.

[iv] Moro G., Arslanoglu S., Stahl B., Jelinek J. Wahn U., Boehm G. A mixture of prebiotic oligosaccharides reduces the incidence of atopic dermatitis during the first six months of age. Arch Dis Child. 2006;91:814-819.

[v] Arslanoglu S., Moro G.E., Boehm, E. Early supplementation of prebiotic oligosaccharides protects formula-fed infants against infections during the first 6 months of life. J Nutr. 2007;137:2420-2424.

[vi] Arslanoglu S. Moro G.E., Schmitt J., Tandoi L. Rizzardi S., Boehm G. Early dietary intervention with a mixture of prebiotic oligosaccharides reduces the incidence of allergic manifestations and infections during the first two years of life. J Nutr. 2008; 138:1091-1095.

[vii] Dobbing J., Sands J. Quantitative growth and development of human brain. Arch Dis Child. 1973;48:757-767.

[viii] McCann J.C. and Ames, B.N. Is docosahexaenoic acid, an n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, required for development of normal brain function? An overview of evidence from cognitive and behavioral tests in humans and animals. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;82:281-295.

[ix] Hoffman DR, Birch EE, Castaneda YS, et al. Visual function in breast-fed term infants weaned to formula with or without long-chain polyunsaturates at 4 to 6 months: a randomized clinical trial. J Pediatr. 2003;142(6):669-677.