HMO supplementation may boost bowel function and help adults with IBS: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Povozniuk / Getty Images
© Povozniuk / Getty Images

Related tags HMOs HMO 2'FL 2'-fucosyllactose Ibs

Supplementation with the human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) HMOs 2'-fucosyllactose (2'FL), and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT) may normalize bowel function and improve bloating and IBS severity in adults, says a new study.

Five grams per day of 2'FL and LNnT in a 4:1 mass ratio for 12 weeks led to significant improvements in the number of bowel movements with abnormal stool consistency, the IBS Symptom Severity Score, and quality of life for the 245 people who completed the study.

“This is the first large-scale trial to show that adult patients with IBS can achieve an improvement of IBS symptoms with supplementation of HMOs,”​ wrote scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Glycom A/S, and the University of Gothenburg in Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology.


HMOs are unique carbohydrates that make up about 10% of the dry weight of mother’s milk. HMOs are not easily digested, so experts postulate that their purpose is to jump-start the infant’s microbiome.

There are about 200 different HMOs, and 2’-FL is the most abundant. As a result, it’s the most studied, and the one that is already commercially available from a number of different suppliers. Glycom, which provided the 2’-FL and LNnT used and funded the nest study, is a leading producer of HMOs of synthetic origin. The company was acquired by DSM in 2020​.

While the majority of the science to date has focused on infants, there is data published in the scientific literature on the potential benefits in adults, with a 2016 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition​ (Elison et al. Vol. 116, pp. 1356-1368) concluding: “HMO supplementation specifically modified the adult gut microbiota with the primary impact being substantial increases in relative abundance of Actinobacteria and ​Bifidobacterium in particular and a reduction in relative abundance of ​Firmicutes and​ Proteobacteria.”

At the other end of the age spectrum, the bifidogenic effects of HMOs may also make these prebiotics interesting to aging populations, which are characterized by declining Bifidobacteria​ levels.

Study details

The new study recruited 317 adults with IBS to participate in their prospective, open-label, single-arm clinical trial. Their average age was 44 and 70% were women. All of the study participants received the five grams per day of the HMO mix, and the study was completed by 245 people.

Results showed that, compared to baseline, the participants experienced significant improvements in the total percentage of bowel movements with abnormal stool consistency, from 91% at the start of the study to 57% after 12 weeks.

In addition, the overall IBS Symptom Severity Score was reduced by 54%, from 323 at week 0 to 144 at week 12. These improvements were seen in all three subtypes of IBS: constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C); diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D); and alternating/mixed-pattern IBS (IBS-M).Symptoms improved the most over the first four weeks of the intervention, said the researchers.

Self-reported health-related quality of life (IBS-QOL) scored also significantly improved over the course of the study, rising from 50.4 at the start to 74.6 at 12 weeks.

“… our results indicate that the HMO mix tested is safe for use in adult patients with IBS,” ​wrote the researchers. “However, the encouraging findings from this open-label trial need to be confirmed in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.”

Probiota Americas 2021

Probiota Americas + IPA logo 2021 + date FINAL

HMOs are just one of the topics that will be explored in depth at the upcoming IPA World Congress + Probiota Americas 2021, June 15-17. Sonia Hartunian-Sowa, PhD, Director of Nutrition, Science & Advocacy, DSM North America, will give a presentation titled, The HMO Journey: Supporting a Lifetime of Health

For more information and to register, click HERE​.

Source: Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology
Volume 11, Issue 12, e00276. doi: 10.14309/ctg.0000000000000276
“Human Milk Oligosaccharides Support Normal Bowel Function and Improve Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Multicenter, Open-Label Trial”
Authors: O.S. Palsson et al.




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