Breast milk provides the best nutrition for babies and is packed with antibodies to support your baby's natural body defenses. Milk oligosaccharides are the third most abundant solid component found in breast milk after fat and carbohydrates.
One of the most striking feature of breast milk is that it contains milk oligosaccharides, prebiotics widely believed to promote intestinal microbial growth in babies and, may be a key element in their overall intestinal health. Recent scientific research has found that a type of milk oligosaccharide known as 2-fucosyllactose (2'-FL), plays a key role in shaping the gut microbiota and maintaining a healthy digestive system.
Why is 2'-FL such a breakthrough discovery? We have two experts to tell us why.
How does 2'-FL nourish good bacteria in the gut?
Dr Mark Underwood, Chief of Paediatric Neonatology and Professor of Paediatrics at the University of California Davis, said that "2'-FL serves as a source of food for good bacteria (probiotics) and stimulates their growth, especially bifidobacteria."
Studies have shown that the incidence of gastrointestinal infections and infantile upper respiratory infections have reduced and this is associated with increased oligosaccharide content in breast milk and infant’s faeces. 2'-FL is also linked to an increase in the production of healthy substances such as short chain fatty acids, and this helps the gut and immune systems to mature.
Dr Nancy Tan, a Paediatric Gastroenterologist at the Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre said that 2'-FL is a unique type of prebiotic that feeds certain types of good bacteria and can also act as a decoy by binding to pathogens which might otherwise bind to the baby's intestinal lining. This is important as maintaining immunity and intestinal health can reduce long-term health risks in children.
"The good news is that 2'-FL has recently been approved by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to be added to milk formula, so more children can benefit from the immune-nourishing benefits of 2'-FL", Dr Nancy Tan added.
Building foundations for a strong digestive and immune system
About 70 per cent of the immune system lives in the gut – this means that maintaining a healthy environment for the gut microbiota to develop is crucial to help babies build strong digestive and immune systems, especially in the first two years of life.1
A lack of good bacteria in the gut increases the risk for many diseases such as diabetes, allergies, asthma, and irritable bowel syndrome later in life. Dr Mark Underwood said, "2'-FL is beneficial in combating food allergy problems." He further explained that allergies are caused by hypersensitivity in the body's immune system when it reacts to foreign substances. Therefore, when a baby's immune system is developing between six to 12 months of age, the growth of good bacteria can help the immune system mature, thereby preventing allergic reactions.
Additionally, humans produce two major types of immune responses when invading foreign particles are present – one is the production of antibodies, and the other is the production of cell-mediated immunity. They both play a critical role in the immune system's defense against infection and disease.
While a baby's immune response produces antibodies at first sight of an infection, their cellular response ability is limited before birth. However, if a baby does not increase his cellular response after birth, this will cause allergies to occur in the future. One way to activate cellular response is to maintain balance in the gut microbiota, and to ensure the presence of sufficient probiotics such as bifidobacteria, so that immune responses of the cells can be stimulated, thereby helping to accelerate the development of a baby's immune system.
Benefits beyond gut health
2'-FL is the most abundant milk oligosaccharide found naturally in the breast milk of majority of mothers, and it can be absorbed into the bloodstream to give your baby the entire immunity support beyond gut health.
Researchers have discovered that babies who are breastfed are found to have overall health benefits including lower risks in contracting otitis media (a common inflammation in the ear), gastroenteritis, allergies, asthma, urinary tract infections, Crohn's disease and certain cancers. In addition to improvements to their cognitive and motor skills development, the risks of necrotizing enterocolitis, a devastating inflammatory disease common to premature infants, is also reduced.2
For mothers who are unable to breastfeed due to various reasons, 2'-FL presents a viable option that gives babies a healthy foundation in the gut, extending to overall health benefits in the long-term.
1 "Why Human Milk Oligosaccharides Are the Next Big Breakthrough," Abbott online, last modified February 23, 2017, http://www.nutritionnews.abbott/healthy-moms-babies/breakthroughs-in-infant-nutrition.html
2 Underwood, Mark A., Stephanie Gaerlan, Maria Lorna A. De Leoz, Lauren Dimapasoc, Karen M. Kalanetra, Danielle G. Lemay, J. Bruce German, David A. Mills, and Carlito B. Lebrilla, "Human Milk Oligosaccharides In Premature Infants: Absorption, Excretion And Influence On The Intestinal Microbiota," Pediatric Research 78, no. 6 (2015): 670-677.