Did you know that 70 per cent of the immune system exists in the gut?1

The gut (also known as the intestinal tract) is a fascinating organ and is very important for our overall growth, development and health.

Maintaining a healthy environment for the gut microbiota to develop is crucial to help your baby build a strong digestive and immune system in the critical window of the first two years of life.1

Building Babys Immunity Gut Health

Breast milk provides all the nutrition that babies need during the first year of life. In addition, an immune-nourishing prebiotic known as ‘2-fucosyllactose’, or 2′-FL for short, is the most abundant milk oligosaccharide in the breast milk of the majority of mothers.

In a breakthrough discovery, scientists have found a way to isolate 2′-FL. The good news for Singaporean parents is that 2′-FL has been recently approved by the Agri-Veterinary Authority (AVA) to be added to infant formula for the first time!2

This innovation presents a breakthrough in paediatric nutrition, as mothers who are unable to breastfeed for various reasons, are now able to help their babies build a strong foundation for their immune system.

2′-FL nourishes good bacteria in the gut

2′-FL is one of many non-digestible sugar molecules found in human milk that are commonly referred to as ‘milk oligosaccharides.’

They are the third most abundant solid ingredient in breast milk after lipids (fats) and lactose (carbohydrates).1

While 2′-FL and other milk oligosaccharides cannot be digested as a nutrient by the baby, these sugar molecules act as a food source (prebiotics) to fuel the growth of good bacteria (probiotics) in the gut.3

While parents tend to know a lot about the importance of probiotics, how these good bacteria are dependent on prebiotics tends to be less known.

Maintaining a healthy and balanced gut microbiota is important, as 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.

Many babies today did not receive good bacteria from their mothers at birth or in the first weeks of life. This is often because these mothers did not receive very many good bacteria from their mothers.

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This loss of the pattern of “generation-to-generation passage” of healthy bacteria is fairly recent and likely an unexpected consequence of many of the breakthroughs of modern medicine such as antibiotics and cesarean delivery. This can explain why more diseases that have surfaced in recent times are related to bad bacteria in the gut.

When you feed your baby with milk oligosaccharides such as 2′-FL, you are essentially helping your baby shape a community of good bacteria in the gut. These good bacteria that live in the gut interact and instruct the immune system to develop, helping to protect your baby from long-term negative health consequences.

2′-FL – A unique type of prebiotic

Prebiotics like inulin, galactooligosaccharides (GOSs) and fructooligosaccharides (FOSs) are fairly non-specific whereas a unique property of milk oligosaccharides like 2′-FL is that they are highly selective prebiotics. In fact, they specifically stimulate the growth of only the good bacteria, giving them an advantage over all the other bacteria found in the intestinal tract.

Studies have also found that 2′-FL is linked to an increase in the production of healthy substances such as short chain fatty acids.5 This helps the gut and immune system to mature.

Beyond this, 2′-FL prevents infection-causing organisms (pathogens) from clinging to intestinal walls, decreasing the likelihood of infection in the small intestine and colon.6 These protective functions are unique to milk oligosaccharides like 2′-FL.

Protecting preemies

Premature babies are at higher risk of developing a serious inflammatory condition of the gut, known as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).7

The recent exciting discovery that milk oligosaccharides such as 2′-FL may have protective effects by decreasing pathogens that cause infections and inflammatory diseases such as NEC, is particularly exciting for these vulnerable premature babies.6

Protect your babies against immunity threats by helping them build a strong and healthy digestive system with 2′-FL.

This article was contributed by Dr Mark Underwood, Chief, Division of Neonatology, UC Davis School of Medicine

References:

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. Yap, Adelene. Food (Amendment) Regulations 2018. Singapore: Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, 2018. Accessed April 5, 2018. https://www.ava.gov.sg/docs/default-source/legislation/sale-of-food-act/circular-on-food-(amdt)-regns-2018-rev-23mar2018.pdf

3. Underwood, Mark A., Jasmine C.C. Davis, Karen M. Kalanetra, Sanjay Gehlot, Sanjay Patole, Daniel J. Tancredi, David A. Mills, Carlito B. Lebrilla, and Karen Simmer, “Digestion Of Human Milk Oligosaccharides By Bifidobacterium Breve In The Premature Infant”, Journal Of Pediatric Gastroenterology And Nutrition 65, no. 4 (2017): 449-455.

4. Arthur I. Eidelman and Richard J. Schanler, “Breastfeeding and the use of human milk,” Pediatrics 3, no. 129 (2012): 598-601.

5. Vázquez E et al. The Human Milk Oligosaccharide 2′-Fucosyllactose Modulates Infant Intestinal Microbiota in Luminal and Mucosal Ecosystems. Abstract presented at the 50th Congress of European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN). 2016.
Newburg, David S, “Innate Immunity And Human Milk,” The Journal Of Nutrition 5, no. 135 (2005): 1308-1312.

6. Newburg, David S, “Innate Immunity And Human Milk,” The Journal Of Nutrition 5, no. 135 (2005): 1308-1312.

7. 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.

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