Infant formula supplemented with milk-derived oligosaccharides (MOS) shifts gut microbiota closer to that of human-milk-fed infants and improves intestinal immune defence, a study by Nestlé and NIZO has found. In this challenging project, NIZO supported Nestlé by carrying out all lab work and microbiota profiling, and providing expert interpretation and insight.

While ‘breast is best’, infant formula offers a healthy alternative where needed. Importantly, studies show that health outcomes of breastfed infants are better compared to formula-fed infants1. Therefore, finding ways to improve infant formula, and ideally bring it closer to human breast milk nutrition, is thus a priority for manufacturers.

There is increasing evidence that the oligosaccharides in breast milk play multiple roles in infant health and well-being. They help balance gut microbiota, enhance the infant’s immune system, and may support brain development. However, most infant formulas do not contain these human oligosaccharides.

Close collaboration between NIZO and Nestlé Research experts

Nestlé wanted to test the impact of adding bovine-milk-derived oligosaccharides to infant formulas to enhance the oligosaccharide profile. They arranged a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial, and chose NIZO to collaborate on the project, which began in 2016.

NIZO acted as a single partner who could carry out all of the lab work and microbiota profiling in-house, explains Guus Kortman, Project Manager and Scientist for NIZO.

“Our NIZO team is very experienced in analysing the gut microbiome to great depth, including biological interpretation of the outcomes. Our experts collaborated closely with the Nestlé Research experts on the microbiota analysis, joining forces to get the most out of the study,”
Dr. Guus Kortman, Project Manager and Scientist NIZO

In-house sample processing and analysis, DNA isolation and microbiota analysis

NIZO processed over 800 stool samples, assessing faecal biomarkers including pH, wet/dry weight, calcium and organic acids. In addition, NIZO carried out a series of enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) for sIgA, lipocalin, α-1-antitrypsin, pancreatic elastase and myeloperoxidase. NIZO was also responsible for DNA isolation and microbiota composition analysis, including 16S rRNA gene sequencing, bioinformatics, integration of biomarkers results and interpretation. Fully validated qPCR assays for targeted analysis were carried out on multiple intestinal pathogens.

Formula with MOS shifts infant gut microbiota closer to breast-fed infants

The study concluded that adding bovine-milk-derived oligosaccharides to the infant formula shifts the gut microbiota and metabolic signature closer to that of human-milk-fed infants, promotes the growth of generally beneficial bifidobacteria, reduces pathogens in the faeces, and improves intestinal immune response.

The jointly-authored paper with the findings has been accepted and published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. An abstract of the study design and findings is available here.

Find out how NIZO can support you in understanding and demonstrating the health benefits of your ingredient, with our in-house expertise and services.

1. World Health Organization . Breastfeeding advocacy initiative: For the best start in life. 2015.

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