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J Paediatr Child Health. 1997 Aug;33(4):281-6.

Human milk oligosaccharides: only the breast.

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1
New Children's Hospital, Westmead, Australia.

Abstract

Over 100 years ago it was first deduced that a major component of human milk must be an unidentified carbohydrate that was not found in cows milk. At first this was thought to be a form of lactose and was called gynolactose. We now know that this was not a single carbohydrate but a complex mixture of approximately 130 different oligosaccharides. Although small amounts of a few oligosaccharides have been found in the milk of other mammals, this rich diversity of sugars is unique to human milk. The oligosaccharide content of human milk varies with the infant's gestation, the duration of lactation, diurnally and with the genetic makeup of the mother. Milk oligosaccharides have a number of functions that may protect the health of the breast fed infant. As they are not digested in the small intestine, they form the 'soluble' fibre of breast milk and their intact structure is available to act as competitive ligands protecting the breast-fed infant from pathogens. There is a growing list of pathogens for which a specific oligosaccharide ligand has been described in human milk. They are likely to form the model for future therapeutic and prophylactic anti-microbials. They provide substrates for bacteria in the infant colon and thereby contribute to the difference in faecal pH and faecal flora between breast and formula-fed infants. They may also be important as a source of sialic acid, essential for brain development.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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