Prebiotics: Human Milk vs. Formula

  • Can formula prebiotics provide benefits similar to those of human milk?

    More than 80% of infants in the US receive formula, either exclusively or as an adjunct to breast milk during the first year of life.1

    Human milk provides important nutrients that1 :

    • Foster growth and development
    • Provide immunity for the infant

    Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOS)1:

    • Are the third-largest constituent of human milk
    • Serve a prebiotic function in the large intestine
      • They can be metabolized by beneficial microorganisms such as bifidobacteria which can provide benefits to an infant’s well-being
    • Are varied in structure and comprise short- and long-chain carbohydrates (believed to range from 3 to 32 sugars)

    Most of these HMOS1:

    • Are not digested in the stomach or small intestine
    • Travel intact to the lower gastrointestinal tract

    Because infants who are formula-fed are not receiving HMOS, it is beneficial to supplement formula with prebiotics that provide carbohydrates similar in variety to that of human milk.1

    Five carbohydrates that have been identified as prebiotics suitable for formula are1 :

    • Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) – short-chain
    • Polydextrose (PDX) – long-chain
    • Lactulose (LOS) – short-chain
    • Inulin (IN) – long-chain
    • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) – short-chain

    To obtain benefit throughout the proximal and distal colon, it is important to supplement with a combination of short- and long-chain carbohydrates, as in HMOS.1

    A combination of GOS and PDX provides a variety of carbohydrates that can help foster the growth of beneficial bacteria similar to HMOS.1

  • For further information on prebiotics and infants, read Prebiotics in Infant Nutrition.

    For further information on prebiotics and infants, read Prebiotics in Infant Nutrition.

  • Reference: 1. Donovan et al, eds. Probiotics in Infant Nutrition. Monograph, sponsored by Mead Johnson. 1-36.

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