HMO supplements may improve gut health for adults with IBS: DSM study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Povozniuk / Getty Images
© Povozniuk / Getty Images

Related tags HMO HMOs 2’-fucosyllactose Ibs

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may benefit from supplements of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), with a new study showing modulation of the gut microbiota, fecal and plasma metabolite profiles.

Data published in Nutrients​ indicated that four weeks of supplementation with the HMOs 2’-FL (2’-fucosyllactose) and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT) led to increased levels of Bifidobacterium adolescentis​ and B. longum​.

“Overall, our findings suggest that 2′FL/LNnT supplementation might be a valuable strategy to improve the intestinal microenvironment in IBS patients, although further studies are needed to decipher the underpinning mechanisms and evaluate possible beneficial effects on IBS symptoms,”​ wrote researchers led by Cristina Iribarren from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.


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 (now DSM), which provided the 2’-FL and LNnT used and sponsored the study, is a leading producer of HMOs of synthetic origin. The company was acquired by DSM last year​.

While the majority of the science to date has focused on infants (see fact box below), 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.”

Study details

The new study explored the potential of a 4:1 mix of 2′FL/LNnT to modulate the gut microbiota and host mucosal response in 58 people with IBS. The participants were randomly assigned to receive placebo or 5 or 10 grams of the 2′FL/LNnT mix for four weeks.

The results showed that both doses of the HMO mixture resulted in increases in Bifidobacterium​ spp. in both the feces and the mucosa, with increased proportions of B. adolescentis​ and B. longum​.

In addition, HMO supplementation was found to modulate the fecal and plasma metabolite profiles, and changes in these metabolite profiles were linked to changes in the abundance of bifidobacterial. ​On the other hand, no changes in the urine metabolite profile or the host mucosal response were reported.

“In our study, we found changes in the relative abundance of the four most abundant OTUs ​Faecalibacterium, Lachnospiraceae and ​Blautia (Clostridiales order), previously described to be altered in IBS patients relative to healthy individuals,” ​wrote the researchers. “… Altogether, 2′FL/LNnT appears to contribute, directly or indirectly, to the modulation of specific bacterial taxa that may be involved in the pathophysiology of IBS and, therefore, of potential clinical benefit to this group of patients.”

Data from infants

As stated earlier in this article, the majority of the science with HMOs has focused on infants, with a study published in Gut​ (He et al., 2016, Vol. 65, pp. 33–46) by scientists from Harvard Medical School indicating that 2’-FL could reduce the inflammatory response to pathogenic bacteria.

In addition, a 2017 paper in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition​ (Puccio et al., Vol. 64, pp. 624–631) reported that infants fed formula with 2′-FL and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT), another HMO, had lower levels of bronchitis and required fewer antibiotics.

Results of a study published in the Journal of Nutrition​ in 2016 by scientists at Abbott Nutrition found that infants fed a formula with 2’-FL had levels of inflammatory cytokines similar to those observed for breast feeding, and significantly lower than those observed for infants fed a control formula containing no 2’-FL. 

Such reports have created buzz in the marketplace around HMOs and 2-‘FL in particular, and the global HMO market size is estimated to already be worth almost US$20 million, according to Grandview Research.

Source: Nutrients
2021, 13​(11), 3836; doi: 10.3390/nu13113836
“The Effects of Human Milk Oligosaccharides on Gut Microbiota, Metabolite Profiles and Host Mucosal Response in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome”
Authors: C. Iribarren, et al.

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