Exploring the path to replicating breast milk's magic in infant formula17 Nov 2023
While breast milk is often hailed as nature's gold standard for infant nutrition, it’s not always readily available. Enter infant formula enriched with human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), a game-changing product that seek to mirror the composition of breast milk.
As part of the Vitafoods Insights July 2023 webinar on infant and children's health, Dr. Regina Karim, global senior science manager at H&H Group, a global health and nutrition company, discussed H&H’s research on the health benefits of HMOs.
HMOs as building blocks to a healthy gut
Karim highlighted the first 1000 days of a child’s life as a critical period for establishing optimal microbiome growth and development, referring to this period as “a window of opportunity for a healthy microbiota”. She noted that human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which are naturally occurring milk sugars in human breast milk, play a significant role in establishing a healthy microbiome.
Karim emphasised that HMOs, despite being non-digestible carbohydrates with no direct nutritional value for infants, act as prebiotics, specifically supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria. They are primarily absorbed by B. Infantis, a 'friendly' strain dominant in an infant's gut.
Karim also stressed that HMOs play a crucial role in strengthening the gut barrier function, acting as decoy receptors that prevent pathogens from attaching to the gut. Instead, pathogens get trapped by HMOs and are flushed away, providing a crucial immunity protection function.
Translating the benefits of HMOs to formula
Despite the well-established benefits of HMOs in breast milk, practical challenges may hinder breastfeeding such as maternal health, work-related commitments, or infant health conditions. In such scenarios, infant formulas step in to provide essential nutrition to babies. Historically, these formulas lacked the bioactive components present in breast milk, particularly HMOs.
In recent years, HMOs have made a significant impact by becoming key ingredients in infant formulas, making their debut in the European market back in 2018 and steadily gaining popularity since. Regulatory bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have given the green light to specific HMOs, including 2′-fucosyllactose (2′-FL) and Lacto‐N‐neotetraose (LNnT), to be incorporated into infant formulas.
Further research is necessary to comprehensively evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of introducing individual HMOs into formulas compared to natural breast milk. Encouragingly, a 2023 review, conducted by the HMO science team from Chr. Hansen and published in Nutrients, analysed 26 clinical studies involving the supplementation of manufactured HMOs. These studies consistently affirmed the safety and tolerability of HMO supplementation. Notably, when exclusively examining infant studies, the researchers reported improvements in gut microbiome and immune markers closely resembling the outcomes observed in breastfed infants.
Balancing affordability in the growing global HMO market
Balancing the evident advantages of HMOs with affordability is a pivotal concern for the industry. The substantial costs associated with incorporating HMOs into infant formula can pose accessibility challenges, particularly in regions experiencing high inflation. Recent Mintel research on the future of baby milk and food, published in October of this year, indicates 64% of UK consumers with children aged four and under are feeling the impact of rising food and drink prices. To address this, it was suggested that formulas emphasising essential nutrients for babies at an affordable price could alleviate parents' concerns regarding the rising costs of infant milk formula.
In tandem with these challenges, the global HMO market is experiencing growth. Its value has surged from US $125.9 million in 2020 to a projected $332.6 m by 2028, as reported by Allied Market Research. As this market expands, some companies are exploring opportunities beyond infant nutrition. One such example is the US-based startup Layer Origin Nutrition, which recognised the potential benefits of HMOs for products targeting adults. In 2021, it launched seven HMO-based products, signalling a growing trend towards diversifying the use of HMOs beyond infant nutrition.
The industry's challenge lies in striking a delicate balance: creating products that harness the potential benefits of HMOs while ensuring they remain affordable.
Nestlé faces US lawsuit for allegedly false advertising pet food as ‘natural’
16 Nov 2023
Legal action has been brought against Nestlé Purina Petcare in the US, after various products were allegedly falsely marketed as ‘natural’, despite containing multiple synthetic ingredients.Read more
Mega brands balance sustainability goals with ‘greenwashing’ accusations
15 Nov 2023
Global companies like Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Danone all have significantly revised and improved their sustainability goals in the last decade – but how much is meaningful change and how much is greenwashing?Read more
FDA proposes US ban on brominated vegetable oil, an additive found in sodas
14 Nov 2023
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a ban on brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in food and drink products, following a similar ban by the state of California, after scientific studies in animals found that the ingredient may be harmful ...Read more
APAC pursues regulatory approval for cellular agriculture
13 Nov 2023
Several Asia-Pacific nations sign an MOU and launch a new platform for cross-border collaboration to speed up regulatory review processes and approval.Read more
FUL Water uses spirulina for sustainable nutrition in functional drinks
10 Nov 2023
Dutch functional water brand, FUL, uses spirulina as a sustainable and nutritious ingredient in its low-carbon FUL Water and is looking to expand into smoothies, juices, and snacks.Read more
‘Climatarian’ consumers centre sustainability in food choices
9 Nov 2023
The climate is a growing concern for consumers when they choose what type of diet to follow and which food products they buy, according to recent data from packaging giant Tetra Pak.Read more
EU consumers seek plant-based products that resemble ‘the real thing’
8 Nov 2023
Moral, environmental, and health considerations are driving demand for plant-based alternatives across Europe. Yet consumers want products that resemble conventional animal products where taste, appearance, and texture are concerned, Mintel data shows....Read more
One-third of US chocolate products contain unsafe levels of heavy metals, study shows
7 Nov 2023
A study conducted by American non-for-profit consumer group Consumer Reports revealed that around one-third of chocolate products sold in the US contain amounts of heavy metals that exceed established limits.Read more
Manufacturers miss over-55s marketing opportunity
6 Nov 2023
Demand and disposable income meet in the over-55s demographic, yet only 1% of recent launches cater to these consumers, Mintel insights show.Read more
Consumer trust in plant-based products grows in Europe, survey reveals
3 Nov 2023
Trust in plant-based proteins is on the rise as Europe’s flexitarian population grows, the results of a new survey show. However, not all countries are on board with the shift to plant-based.Read more