Study supports safety & effects of human milk oligosaccharides in healthy adults

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock / TLFurrer
© iStock / TLFurrer

Related tags Gut flora Breast milk

Supplements containing specific human milk oligosaccharides from breast milk may selectively modify the gut microbiome in healthy adults, says a new study that also supports the safety and tolerability of the ingredients.

Data published in the British Journal of Nutrition​ indicated that 2'-fucosyllactose (2’-FL) and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT) rapidly modulated the adult microbiota, boosting levels of bifidobacteria, and reducing levels of Firmicutes and Proteobacteria.

“Bifidobacteria have for long been regarded as beneficial members of the human gut microbiota, and low levels have been reported in obese and diabetic individuals, in individuals taking antibiotics and in patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease,”​ wrote the researchers.

“Safe and well-tolerated interventions, such as HMO supplementation, thus represent approaches worth considering to replenish bifidobacteria in individuals presenting low levels of these bacteria.”

The study used synthetic versions of 2’-FL and LNnT produced by Danish company Glycom A/S​, which also funded the study. Both ingredients have novel foods status in the EU (EFSA Journal​ 2015, Vol. 13, No. 7, pp. 4183​ & 4184​).


Interest in HMOs is on the rise, specifically in the infant formula space. Human milk oligosaccharides, or HMOs, form a significant portion of human breast milk (about 12%) but they are not easily digested. Experts postulate that their purpose is to jump start the infant’s microbiome.

Results of a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition​ ​found that infants fed a formula with 2’-FL had levels of inflammatory cytokines similar to those observed for breast feeding, and significantly lower than those observed for infants fed a control formula containing no 2’-FL.

Study details

breastfeeding milk formula infant baby mother Pilin_Petunyia
HMOs form a significant portion of human breast milk (about 12%). Image © iStock / Pilin_Petunyia

The new study is said to the first to assess the safety, tolerance and influence of 2′-FL, LNnT and a mix of the two on gut microbiota populations in adults. The study was performed by scientists from Glycom, Zealand University Hospital, Copenhagen University, Clinical-Microbiomics ApS, University of Zurich, and the Technical University of Denmark.

The researchers recruited 100 healthy, adult with an average age of 36 and an average BMI of 25.4 kg/m2 to participate in their parallel, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of 10 groups and consumed 2’-FL, LNnT or 2’-FL plus LNnT (at a mass ratio of 2:1) at 5, 10 or 20 grams per day or placebo for two weeks.

Results showed that supplementation of 2’-FL and LNnT or a combination of both at all doses were safe and well tolerated. In addition, HMO supplementation specifically increased the relative abundance of bifidobactera by over 25% in some individuals, and these changes were observed within 1 to 2 weeks.

“The observed increase in bifidobacteria was dose dependent but unrelated to the initial bifidobacteria abundance,”​ wrote the researchers

Furthermore, he abundance of other potentially beneficial bacteria such as Faecalibacterium, Roseburia, Akkermansia or Lactobacillus did not decrease as bifidobacteria levels increased, they said.

“Intriguingly, the mix of 2′FL and LNnT was better tolerated than the individual HMO when given at high doses. We further show that both 2′FL and LNnT are specific modulators of the adult microbiota with a very specific increase in bifidobacteria, particularly one OTU (s1_r64).

“Collectively, the results from this study show that supplementing the diet with HMO is a valuable strategy to shape the human gut microbiota and specifically promote the growth of beneficial bifidobacteria,”​ they concluded.

Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Volume 116, Issue 8, Pages 1356-1368, doi:
“Oral supplementation of healthy adults with 2′-O-fucosyllactose and lacto-N-neotetraose is well tolerated and shifts the intestinal microbiota”
Authors: E. Elison et al. 

Related topics R&D Nutritionals

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