Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that create an environment favoring the growth of beneficial bacteria like bifidobacteria in the gut. Recent scientific studies have shown that improved growth and activity of these bacteria have an antimicrobial and immunomodulatory effect.
The prebiotic properties of human milk oligosaccharides are very well established and were first described by pediatricians at the beginning of the 20th century. Even before then, the gut flora of breastfed and non-breastfed children was known to be different. One week after birth, 95 percent of the total population (concentration) of bacteria in the gut of breastfed infants are bifidobacteria, which influences the acid content of the intestine, and thus reduces the growth opportunities for other – undesirable – bacteria.
Human milk oligosaccharides have a prebiotic or bifidogenic effect. Beneficial microorganisms such as bifidobacteria can, unlike human cells or pathogens, use human milk oligosaccharides as an energy source to support their growth and activity.
Human milk oligosaccharides also have an additional positive effect on intestinal flora, by binding certain undesirable bacteria and preventing them from attaching to receptors on the surface of cells, thus reducing their ability to colonize the body. The unique potpourri of human milk oligosaccharides in breast milk influences the composition of the intestinal microbiome. On the one hand, the mixture may stimulate the growth and activity of desirable intestinal bacteria, whilst on the other, it is suggested to inhibit the growth of undesirable bacteria which helps to eliminate them from the body.
Current research suggests that about 5 percent of consumed human milk oligosaccharides are used for bacterial metabolism in the human digestive tract. The oligosaccharides thus contribute significantly to the improved growth and activity of these bacteria. The vast majority of human milk oligosaccharides pass through the human body via the digestive system and blood stream and are then excreted.
The microbiome is part of the human metabolic system and exerts a considerable influence on human vitality and wellbeing.