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Adv Nutr. 2012 Sep 1;3(5):687-96. doi: 10.3945/an.112.002683.

Nutritional factors influencing intestinal health of the neonate.

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Laboratory of Developmental Nutrition, Department of Animal Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA.


Dietary nutrients are essential for gastrointestinal (GI) growth and function, and nutritional support of GI growth and development is a significant component of infant care. For healthy full-term neonates, nutritional provisions of the mother's milk and/or formula will support normal maturation of structure and function of the GI tract in most infants. The composition of breast milk affects GI barrier function and development of a competent mucosal immune system. The functional nutrients and other bioactive components of milk support a microenvironment for gut protection and maturation. However, premature infants struggle with feeding tolerance impairing normal GI function, leading to intestinal dysfunction and even death. The high prevalence worldwide of enteric diseases and dysfunction in neonates has led to much interest in understanding the role of nutrients and food components in the establishment and maintenance of a functioning GI tract. Neonates who do not receive enteral feeding as either mother's milk or formula are supported by total parental nutrition (TPN). The lack of enteral nutrition can compound intestinal dysfunction, leading to high morbidity and mortality in intestinally compromised infants. Reciprocally, enteral stimulation of an immature GI tract can also compound intestinal dysfunction. Therefore, further understanding of nutrient interactions with the mucosa is necessary to define nutritional requirements of the developing GI tract to minimize intestinal complications and infant morbidity. Piglet models of intestinal development and function are similar to humans, and this review summarizes recent findings regarding nutrient requirements for growth and maintenance of intestinal health. In particular, this article reviews the role of specific amino acids (arginine, glutamine, glutamate, and threonine), fatty acids (long chain polyunsaturated, medium chain, and short chain), various prebiotic carbohydrates (short-chain fructo-oligosaccharide, fructo--oligosaccharide, lacto-N-neotetraose, human milk oligosaccharide, polydextrose, and galacto-oligosaccharide), and probiotics that have been examined in the suckling piglet model of intestinal health.

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