Breast milk fights against the effects of harmful bacteria


Researchers at National Jewish Health and the University of Iowa have identified a compound in human breast milk that fights infections by harmful bacteria while allowing beneficial bacteria to thrive.

Human breast milk has more than 200 times the amount of glycerol monolaurate (GML) than is found in cows’ milk. Infant formula has none. GML is inexpensive to manufacture.

Future research will determine if GML could be a beneficial additive to cow’s milk and infant formula.

“Our findings demonstrate that high levels of GML are unique to human breast milk and strongly inhibit growth of pathogenic bacteria,” said Donald Leung, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health and senior author on a paper in Scientific Reports.

‘While antibiotics can fight bacterial infections in infants, they kill the beneficial bacteria along with the pathogenic ones,” said Patrick Schlievert, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and first author on the Scientific Reports paper.

“GML is much more selective, fighting only the pathogenic bacteria while allowing beneficial species to thrive.

We think GML holds great promise as a potential additive to cows’ milk and infant formula that could promote the health of babies around the world.”

After determining that human breast milk contains much higher levels of GML than does cows’ milk, the researchers showed that human breast milk inhibits the growth of the pathogenic bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis and Clostridium perfringens, while neither cows’ milk nor infant formula had any effect.

After determining that human breast milk contains much higher levels of GML than does cows’ milk, the researchers showed that human breast milk inhibits the growth of the pathogenic bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis and Clostridium perfringens, while neither cows’ milk nor infant formula had any effect.

Human breast milk did not inhibit the growth of the beneficial bacteria Enterococcus faecilis.

Babies fed on human breast milk have high levels of beneficial bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and enterococci bacterial species.

When researchers remove the GML from human breast milk, it lost its antimicrobial activity against S. aureus. When they added GML to cows’ milk, it became antimicrobial.

The researchers also showed that GML inhibits inflammation in epithelial cells, which line the gut and other mucosal surfaces.

Inflammation can damage epithelial cells and contribute to susceptibility to both bacterial and viral infections.

Drs. Schlievert and Leung have applied for a patent for the use of GML as a beneficial additive to cows’ milk and infant formula.

An emerging body of research on the microbiome has already revolutionized disciplines ranging from environmental microbiology to medicine, and could also have implications for public health policy.

Public health implications of microbiome research are not clear-cut, however: as researchers actively investigate what constitutes a “healthy microbiome,” it is difficult to craft policies based on existing knowledge of microbiome functions for improving human health.1,2 Indeed, in most cases, research findings are descriptive associations between certain diseases and microbiota composition.

Although we gain new insights every day, causal relationships among variables are not fully and widely established. As D’Hondt et al3 puts it,

The causal relations of nutrition, gut microbiome composition and health is not clearly understood yet, such as whether a healthy microbiome can be defined at population level, what determines its resilience when disturbed, or how its composition can be beneficially manipulated.

Furthermore, microbiomes exhibit extensive individual variation within households and across the globe.48 

In addition, microbial interactions are largely unknown and the question as to whether or not some bacteria are harmful seems to be context-dependent, adding further challenges to policy-making.911

 Thus, public policy’s three common prerequisites, namely, generalizability, efficacy and safety are not easily met when it comes to translating the findings of the microbiome research into public policy.12

Not all research findings fail to meet the criteria, however. The significance of oligosaccharides as constituents in breastmilk is a case in point.

It has been long known that breastfeeding sets the foundation for a healthy baby with short- and long-term health implications.13,14 Recent research findings further shed light on how and why the oligosaccharide components in breastmilk are crucial. It is well established that breastmilk is essential in establishing the microbiome for babies, setting the foundations for healthy growth and development.15,16

 Failing to establish those foundations, as recent research has suggested, will have significant health implications for future generations.

Therefore, establishing new public policies that address these key findings around the intake of dietary fiber across one’s lifespan, and particularly during pregnancy and lactation is critical for preventing diseases and thereby avoiding expensive curative care later on.

A closely related policy area is the lack of a paid maternity leave policy in the United States. Empirical evidence has demonstrated that women are more likely to initiate and maintain breastfeeding if they are able to delay their return to work after giving birth.17

 In the absence of paid maternity leave, women either stop working entirely, which significantly reduces the family’s income, or they go back to work too early, which makes breastfeeding unlikely.

Neither option is ideal for the health of the babies or their mothers. Although there are many factors that affect mothers’ decision to breastfeed, public policy concerning parental leave is a crucial one.

It is no coincidence that in countries such as Sweden and Norway, where mothers as well as fathers enjoy generous leaves after birth of a child without worrying about their paychecks, are also the countries where breastfeeding ratios are the highest. This close relationship between breastfeeding and paid parental leave necessitates a discussion of these policies together.

This paper has two objectives. First, it reviews the growing body of literature that demonstrates the significance of fiber and prebiotics for the gut microbiome and why it is important for infants to receive oligosaccharides as well as bacteria and other nutrients through breastmilk.

These components of the milk help develop and establish infants’ maturing microbiome. Second, the paper evaluates the existing dietary recommendations for breastfeeding mothers in the United States in comparison to other developed countries. By discussing the United States as a case study, this paper argues for an urgent need to modify the existing dietary recommendations for lactating mothers.

The need for dietary modification goes beyond the United States, as there is a global pattern in the lack of emphasis on daily fiber intake and how that negatively impacts gut health.

Related to this objective, the paper also advocates for a national, paid parental leave to promote healthy breastfeeding and dietary habits of lactating mothers. The United States represents a unique case in this regard because it is currently the only developed country that lacks a paid parental leave.

This is particularly relevant to breastfeeding because the lack of paid leave is a major reason why women cannot initiate breastfeeding, meet dietary intake and nutritional guidelines during lactation, or maintain breastfeeding for the minimum recommended period.

The paper therefore criticizes the conceptualization of breastfeeding as a personal responsibility and emphasizes the need for supportive policies, such as improving dietary fiber intake for mothers and paid parental leave.

While the public health implications of some microbiome findings are unclear, this is less true for others. Promoting the inclusion of fiber-rich whole foods into the diet of breastfeeding mothers and adopting a national, paid parental leave policy for all working mothers are par excellence of those implications in point.

Dietary Fiber and the Gut Microbiome During Pregnancy and Lactation

New research findings demonstrate that supporting the development of a diverse gut microbiome is of importance for human health.

For instance, disrupting the growth of diverse gut microbiota reduces the strength of the immune system.18 Health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and atopic diseases, such as allergies and asthma, have been shown to arise when the immune system is compromised due to a disturbance in the development of the gut microbiota.19 

Lifestyle choices and environments influence which species of bacteria and other microbes will inhabit the gut. The nutrients being consumed to cultivate the microbes help determine which species will colonize the gut and in what quantity.

Despite findings on the importance of diverse gut microflora, research has demonstrated that there has been a gradual decline in gut microbiome diversity in Westernized countries. This is cause for great concern, as greater gut microflora diversity is associated with health.

Furthermore, recent research has demonstrated that some diet-induced extinction in a mother’s gut is in turn transferred to the offspring, which might lead to irreversible loss of some microbial communities or species.20

 This depletion in microbial species has been most strongly linked to diets low in microbiota-accessible carbohydrates, or MACs. Dietary fiber is the main source of MACs for adults, and industrialized communities with diets low in dietary fiber tend to have comparatively higher rates of chronic non-communicable diseases like obesity, autoimmune diseases, asthma, and allergies, all of which are linked to disruptions in the host-microbiome relationship.7

The Institute of Medicine defines dietary fiber as referring to “non-digestible carbohydrates and lignins that are intrinsic and intact in plants.”21 Dietary fiber is present in plant-based foods such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. In a 9-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) cohort study of about 400,000 individuals ages 50 to 71, fiber was found to be significantly inversely associated with risk of death.

Fiber intake from whole grains was most strongly associated with reduced risk of death in this study, followed by legumes and vegetables.22 This cohort study found that fiber, especially from grains, was associated with reduced death from respiratory and infectious diseases, most likely because increased fiber intake is associated with reduced levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor α receptor 2.

These markers all play a role in chronic inflammatory conditions that could increase risk of death.21 The importance of fiber during pregnancy is related to improving digestion and regulation of glucose metabolism,23 but fiber-rich diets during pregnancy have also been shown to reduce incidence of allergic diseases in infants.24 

The fiber and other nutrients found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables support successful fetal development and breast milk quality by providing the vitamin B, folate, magnesium, and selenium needed for preventing spina bifida, anencephaly, low birth weight, and problems with the immune and nervous systems.

General overview of gut bacterial fermentation of fiber rich foods versus supplements

Bacteria are key to fermenting fiber because those residing in the colon ferment the dietary fiber carbohydrates that are not digested by the upper gastrointestinal tract. This fermentation process results in the production of methane, carbon dioxide, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like acetate, propionate, and butyrate, and other metabolic products.23,25 

Each type of fiber consists of different types of molecular linkages and a different number of monosaccharide units. Humans do not produce their own enzymes capable of breaking down these polysaccharides; it is the bacteria in the small intestine and colon that are capable of performing this function.26

 Because of the structural discrepancies between types of fiber, many different enzymes are needed to break it down, and not every species of bacteria produces all the enzymes necessary to break down all types of fiber. Different species of bacteria work together as commensal organisms with varying capabilities to hydrolyze different dietary fibers; therefore, eating a variety of high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can encourage greater microbial diversity and enhance metabolism in the gut.

Dietary fibers can be classified as insoluble or soluble, depending on if they can be hydrolyzed in the gut. Insoluble fibers such as cellulose are not well fermented by gut microbes. Nevertheless, they can provide other health benefits by improving stool bulking and movement through the gastrointestinal tract.23 

Healthy sources of insoluble fiber include, but are not limited to whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, whole grain rice, nuts, beans and vegetables such as cauliflower and green beans.27 Meanwhile, soluble fibers include B-glucans, pectin, inulin, resistant maltodextrins, resistant starch, polydextrose, and soluble corn fiber.23 Oats, brown rice, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and barley are some of the foods that contain significant amounts of soluble fiber.26 

Bacteria ferment soluble fiber, allowing them to perform beneficial functions such as producing SCFAs and lowering the pH of the gut.28 A reduced pH helps prevent the growth of pathogenic microorganisms and reduces peptide breakdown and toxin formation.29

Can one take fiber supplements instead of following a high-fiber whole food diet and get the same benefits? Many fiber supplements are made from functional whole food fibers, yet they are physically, chemically, or enzymatically isolated from foods.

Consumption of supplements (in pill or powder form) do not go through processing in the same manner by the gut microbiome when compared to fiber consumption from whole food forms.20 

Naturally high-fiber whole foods are known to be beneficial for health, partly because they contain other beneficial phytonutrients and phytochemicals.30 Although some research has shown that fiber supplements might be prebiotic sources for gut microbes and can still be fermented by bacteria to produce SCFA,31 they do not deliver the other key nutrients found in foods.

Fruits and vegetables, for example, supply vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory agents in addition to dietary fiber.24 In pregnancy, the folate, vitamins, and minerals found naturally in high-fiber whole foods support fetal development.22

These nutrients would not be found in a typical fiber supplement. In addition, not all supplements are equally nutritionally beneficial and emerging evidence demonstrates inverse associations with health outcomes.29,32,33

What is the role of prebiotics for the gut? Prebiotics include certain fermentable (soluble) fibers and when derived from whole foods, there are other co-existing phytochemicals that promote the growth and/or metabolic activity of select species of commensal bacteria in the gut—traditionally called native gut bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.

These bacteria have multiple species within this genus that are considered beneficial to human health. Dietary fibers that are considered prebiotics include inulin, resistant starch, and oligosaccharides such as fructooligosaccharides, although other dietary fibers can also have prebiotic effects in the gut.24,29 Galactooligosaccharides are also prebiotic. They are found naturally in human breastmilk, as one of the 130 different oligosaccharides that can be produced by lactating mothers.34

Galactooligosaccharides can also be manufactured from lactose to be added to foods as a fiber supplement.33 Prebiotics from the diet and those naturally occurring in breastmilk can help the immune system develop and function more effectively, strengthen the gut barrier to protect against pathogens, and stimulate SCFA production by bacteria.35

 SCFAs have been shown to have benefits for human health by serving as an energy source for the colonic epithelium, influencing gut mucosal immunity and reducing gut inflammation. SCFAs are also absorbed into the bloodstream and can be used as an energy source for the brain, muscles, and tissues.24,36 Fiber and breastmilk oligosaccharides also play key roles in ensuring proper immune responses.

Developing immune system linkages to gut fermentation of dietary fiber

Numerous studies have been conducted using mice to demonstrate the important immunological benefits of a diet rich in fiber. Mice fed diets that were comparatively higher in fiber showed reduced inflammatory responses in their lungs and gut. For lungs, this reduction in inflammation was shown through lower levels of inflammatory cytokines and antibodies and reduced mucus production in the lung tissue of mice fed a diet higher in fiber.35

 Reduced inflammation and mucous results in reduced airway resistance, which is important for proper breathing. Based on the study’s findings, fiber reduces lung inflammation by providing the nutrients needed for gut microbiota to produce SCFAs. While SCFAs do not enter the lungs, they help to reduce dendritic cell (DC) maturation in other parts of the body.

Therefore, when lung irritation does occur and these less mature DCs migrate to the lungs, they trigger a significantly reduced inflammatory response.35 This study establishes how a high-fiber diet could be important for reducing asthma symptoms and airway inflammation. The availability of fiber allows gut microbes to produce metabolites that can influence systemic immune processes throughout the body.

Despite fiber’s demonstrated role in the health of the human body, today’s society is not meeting daily dietary fiber needs at all ages and stages of life, and has substantially reduced quantities (10-20 g/day) when compared to the diets of more rural societies and past generations (30-60 g/day).19 

This fiber-diet discrepancy over time and between populations may help explain differences in gut microbiome compositions and their metabolic functions. The recommended amount of daily fiber for adults is 30 g/day. Most Americans consume 15 g of fiber per day or less, which is 50% less than the daily amount recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).28 

Low dietary fiber results in reduced availability of MACs in the gut. This means that some commensal bacteria do not have the nutrients that they need to produce health benefits and optimal immune functions.15 Importantly, mechanistic research that links the consumption of fiber to specific bacteria or microbial communities, and further to certain health outcomes, has typically risen from animal studies. Caution is often warranted to not assume that these mechanisms are identified and verified in humans.

Given the rapid growth of research interests around the role of the human gut microbiota in facilitating beneficial health effects associated with consumption of dietary fiber, an evidence map of current research activity in this area was created using a newly developed database of dietary fiber intervention studies in humans.30

The beginning of an infant’s life is a critical time for the establishment of gut microflora, with potential long-term health consequences if gut microbial dysbiosis occurs.

For example, studies have shown that the first 100 days of life is a critical window—and little is known regarding how the wide variety of possible disruptions impact the formation of the gut microbiome during this time, all of which can put children at a higher risk of developing asthma and allergic disease.37 

There are four bacterial genera that, if present in children during this early phase of life, help to abate development of asthma and allergies. When mice were inoculated with these four types of bacteria (Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella, and Rothia), they experienced significantly reduced lung inflammation, as levels of both neutrophils and leukocytes in the lungs were reduced. These findings indicate that gut microbiome development can play an important role in long-term immune system function, particularly relating to upper respiratory diseases like asthma.36

Beneficial human milk oligosaccharides

Breastfeeding has been shown to have many benefits for infant growth, especially in supporting the development of a healthy gut microbiome and immune system. The human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) found in breastmilk provide important nutritional and other health benefits for infants.

Oligosaccharides are the third most abundant nutrient in breastmilk behind lactose and fat, and serve as prebiotic soluble fibers for the infant gut. They consist of a combination of glucose, galactose, sialic acid, fucose, and N-acetylglucosamine linked together in different ways in each oligosaccharide, contributing to the diversity of prebiotics provided by breastmilk.38 

Because HMOs are prebiotic, they cannot be degraded by the infants’ digest enzymes and can instead be fermented by bacteria in the colon. Not all bacteria can consume the oligosacchraides for nourishment, so the presence of HMOs fosters the growth of particular beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Bacteroides while indirectly inhibiting the growth of other bacterial species.39

More than 200 unique HMOs have been identified in breastmilk.39 The oligosaccharide content of breastmilk varies significantly from one woman to the next, and while additional research is needed, evidence indicates that the oligosaccharides are produced by a mother at a unique ratio to meet her infants’ needs.

The unique combination of oligosaccharides works together in a way that cannot be replicated by adding individual HMOs to infant formula.40 In addition, the oligosaccharides vary based on the stage of lactation, diurnally, and based on the mother’s genetic makeup.38 The secretor and Lewis genes in the mammary gland determine the fucosylated sequences of HMOs, which serve as recognition motifs for bacteria.41 These unique HMO structures allow fermentation by beneficial bacteria, while inhibiting and protecting the infant from pathogenic bacteria.38

An infant’s diet plays an important role in the development of their gut microflora, which in turn will have a significant impact on their long-term health.13,14 This is directly connected to breastmilk for at least those infants who are exclusively breastfed. Human milk contains beneficial species of bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli that colonize the infant’s gut, as well as oligosaccharides, which are fermented by commensal bacterial species in the colon.

Breastmilk also contains secretory IgA, lactoferrin, and lysozyme. Lysozyme acts selectively to break down clostridia and other Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria while beneficial species of Bifidobacteria are resistant to its effects.39 Many components of breastmilk work together to develop a diverse gut microbiome in the infant with long-term health benefits.

Research demonstrates that infants fed using formula rather than breastmilk do not receive these potentially beneficial bacteria and oligosaccharides.42 A study by Borewicz et al39 found statistically significant associations between the fecal microbiota composition of one-month-old breastfed infants and levels of two breastmilk oligosaccharides (LNFPI and 2’FL). LNFPI is positively associated with the presence of Bacteroides and Bifidobacteria, and 2’FL is positively associated with Bacteroides.

Another study of 102 infants fed exclusively breastmilk, exclusively formula, or a combination of breastmilk and formula was conducted to investigate the impact the infant’s diet had on his or her gut microbiome composition.37 The results of this study indicated that there was no statistically significant difference between the gut microbiome composition of infants fed a combination of breastmilk and formula or exclusively formula, but there was a statistically significant difference between the microbiome of exclusively breastfed infants and the other two diets.43 

One of the differences in the microbiomes of the infants was that those who were exclusively breastfed had a greater abundance of Bifidobacterium in their guts. Oligosaccharides in breastmilk are thought to promote the growth of Bifidobacteria, and studies suggest that Bifidobacteria play a significant role in helping an infant’s immune system mature.44 

Studies have suggested that HMOs are involved in the generation of anti-inflammatory mediators, T cell activation, and cytokine production. Acidic oligosaccharides may also play a role in preventing pathogenic bacteria from attaching to intestinal epithelial cells.45 Animal studies have also supported the link between oligosaccharides and beneficial bacteria in the gut. A study using germ-free mice inoculated with Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis and Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron showed that the presence of HMOs provided B. infantis with an increase of 38% in relative abundance over B. thetaiotaomicron. This increase in abundance of B. infantis is important because it is a species of infant-associated bacteria that may keep pathogenic bacteria from growing extensively in the gut. B. infantis can also help produce SCFAs and other metabolites that are beneficial to the growth of helpful bacteria rather than harmful species.46

Breastfeeding has been associated with decreased risks of asthma, obesity, infection, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes when compared to infants fed with formula, and there is evidence linking gut microbe colonization through feeding with these health discrepancies.42,47

In sum, the recent literature on microbiome, as summarized in Table 1, highlights (1) the significance of fiber for human health, in general, and the significance of oligosaccharide components in breastmilk for infants’ health during weaning in particular; (2) the importance of breastfeeding for infants’ short- and long-term health; (3) prebiotic and probiotic supplements cannot be substitutes for a fiber rich whole foods diet; (4) different fiber-rich food groups, such as whole grains, legumes and vegetables, provide different benefits and should not be a replaced by one another; and (5) first 100 days are crucial for infants’ gut microbiota to receive HMOs. Based on these research findings, the next section examines the existing dietary recommendations for lactating mothers and argues that the current recommendations should be modified to reflect the new research findings.

Table 1.

Literature on microbiome & breastfeeding-diet-fiber connection.

Relationship between fiber, the gut microbiome, and healthComparison of diets and microbiomes between rural and industrial societiesHigh-fiber diets are associated with microbial growth in the gut that could help prevent non-communicable chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, allergies, and asthma.18
Relationship between fiber consumption and risk of death9 year National Institutes of Health cohort study of about 400,000 individuals aging 50-71Whole grains are most strongly associated with risk of death from respiratory and infectious diseases followed by legumes and vegetables as dietary fiber sources.21
Significance of fiber for both mother and fetusHigh-fiber diets provide benefits during and after pregnancyFiber should be considered vital for pregnancy for variety of reasons including the prevention of constipation, cardiovascular disease during pregnancy and later childhood allergy development.23
Relationship between fiber, the gut microbiome, and healthMechanisms of how fiber influences gut bacteria and human healthFermentation of fiber by bacteria residing in the colon results in the production of methane, carbon dioxide, and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)—acetate, propionate, and butyrate. SCFAs serve as an energy source and support the immune system, among other functions.28
Gut bacteria and digestionAnalysis of how fiber/prebiotic consumption influences the behavior of gut bacteriaCommensal gut bacteria possess the enzymes necessary to break down certain polysaccharides (such as types of dietary fiber), providing health benefits that humans would otherwise be unable to enjoy.25
Fiber supplements vs high fiber whole foodsAnalysis of how different types of fiber influence bacterial species and human healthSupplements are one option for meeting recommendations for fiber consumption, but eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes provides dietary fiber as well as other benefits like antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.20,22,29,30
Sources of dietary fiberA variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are good sources of insoluble and soluble fiber.26
Relationship between fiber, the gut microbiome, and healthBenefits of gut bacteria fermenting fiberBacteria can ferment soluble fiber in the colon, producing health benefits like short-chain fatty acids and a low gut pH.27
Significance of fiber for both mother and fetusHealth benefits of different types of prebioticsGalacto-oligosaccharides are prebiotics found naturally in breastmilk, and are associated with increased growth of beneficial gut bacteria and protection from pathogens in breastfed infants.31
Relationship between fiber, the gut microbiome, and healthHow prebiotics contribute to human healthPrebiotics health maintain a strong immune system, protect the gut barrier from pathogens, and stimulating short-chain fatty acid production by bacteria.32
Relationship between fiber, the gut microbiome, and healthMouse study on relationship between fiber consumption and immune systemMice fed a high-fiber diet presented with reduced inflammatory responses in their lungs and gut. Based on the study’s findings, fiber reduces lung inflammation by providing the nutrients needed for gut microbiota to produce short-chain fatty acids.33
Infant gut microbiome development and immune system functionMouse study connecting specific bacteria to an effective immune systemIf the growth of a gut microbiome is disrupted during this time, children are at a higher risk of developing asthma and allergic disease. Mice inoculated with four genera of “healthy” bacteria experienced reduced lung inflammation.29
Breast milk and infant gut microbiomeEffects of breast milk on infant gut microbiome in a longitudinal study and meta-analysisDiversity and composition of infant microbiome was dependent on the daily intake of breast milk and differences in the relative abundance and functions of particular bacteria are shown in the comparison of exclusively breastfed to non-exclusively breastfed infants across populations.13,14
Breastfeeding vs formula feeding and the gut microbiomeInfants who are fed using formula do not receive the beneficial bacterial strains and oligosaccharides found in breast milk.34
Breastfeeding vs formula feeding and the gut microbiomeCohort study of microflora composition of formula vs breastmilk-fed infantsThere is a statistically significant difference in the gut microbiomes of infants who are exclusively breastfed compared to formula-fed infants or infants fed a combination of formula and breast milk.35
Maternal microbiome and offspring immune developmentNo fiber diet vs high fiber diet fed mice on T cell development in offspringMaternal dietary fiber derived short chain fatty acids effect offspring immune development through promotion of regulatory T cell differentiation by increasing autoimmune regulator expression.36
Breastfeeding vs formula feeding and the gut microbiomePrebiotics in breastmilkOligosaccharides are prebiotics found in breast milk that promote the growth of Bifidobacteria in infants, a strain of bacteria that is beneficial for the immune system.30
Breastfeeding and the gut microbiomePrebiotics in breastmilk and the immune systemStudies suggest that milk oligosaccharides strengthen the immune system through generation of anti-inflammatory mediators, T cell activation, cytokine production, and preventing the attachment of pathogenic bacteria in the gut.37
Breastfeeding and the gut microbiomeStudy on relationship between milk oligosaccharides and commensal bacteriaA study using germ-free mice demonstrated that human milk oligosaccharides increased the growth of Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis bacteria, which help fight pathogenic bacteria and produce short-chain fatty acids and other metabolites.38

National Jewish Health
Media Contacts:
William Allstetter – National Jewish Health
Image Source:
The image is adapted from the National Jewish Health news release.

Original Research: Open access
“Glycerol Monolaurate Contributes to the Antimicrobial and Anti-inflammatory Activity of Human Milk”. Patrick M. Schlievert, Samuel H. Kilgore, Keun Seok Seo & Donald Y. M. Leung.
Scientific Reports doi:10.1038/s41598-019-51130-y.


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