There is a growing interest in milk oligosaccharides. Why?

Human milk oligosaccharides (natural milk sugars found in breast milk) have been implicated in a number of biological functions that benefit an infant, such as prebiotic activity, defence against bacterial and viral infections, modulators of cell surface carbohydrates and immune system responses.

The benefits of breastfeeding are well accepted among the healthcare profession.  However, breastfeeding is not always possible, or an informed decision may be made not to breastfeed.  In such cases, a suitable infant formula should be chosen.

Irish research which is being conducted by Food for Health Ireland (FHI) researchers in the Food Research Centre at Teagasc, Moorepark, is highlighting cow’s milk as a potentially suitable source of oligosaccharides for use as functional ingredients in relation to infant formula.

Infant formula is formulated to match, as best as possible, the nutritional properties of human breast milk.  However, the composition of infant formula milks does not match that of natural breast milk, therefore, research needs to continue to focus on the development of ingredients to improve infant formula.  The potential to add milk-derived oligosaccharides to infant formula could be of significant benefit once their health benefits have been further elucidated.

These research findings are exciting scientific developments.  And, while the NDC and FHI support breastfeeding recommendations, a deeper understanding of the health benefits of milk oligosaccharides will help health professionals advise parents and carers regarding infant formulas containing such components once available on the market, where breastfeeding is not possible.

Dairy Nutrition Forum (DN Forum) is a science-based publication written specifically for health professionals and industry experts, produced by the NDC in association with FHI.  Through collaboration on this publication, the NDC and FHI aim to assist both healthcare professionals and the industry in the translation of scientific evidence into practice.

The current issue of DN Forum features FHI researchers from Teagasc’s Food Research Centre, Moorepark, who provide an overview of the current understanding of the role of milk oligosaccharides in human health.  Insights into the work being conducted within FHI in relation to this area are also provided.


By Dr Catherine Logan, nutrition manager at the National Dairy Council.