Structural and functional aspects of prebiotics used in infant nutrition.
J Nutr. 2008 Sep;138(9):1818S-1828S. PMID: 18716193
Breast-feeding is associated with several benefits. Among them, the balanced postnatal development of the immune system is 1 of the key functions of breast-feeding. Although this effect is of multifactorial origin, it is widely accepted that the entire intestinal microbiota of breast-fed infants represents an important stimulating factor of the postnatal development of the immune system. The effect of breast-feeding on the intestinal microbiota can not be attributed to a single compound, but there is accumulating evidence that human milk oligosaccharides play a crucial role. Because there is a broad consensus that the intestinal microbiota plays an important physiological role for the host, many attempts have been made to influence the intestinal flora by dietary interventions. This article summarizes results of intervention studies in which nonmilk oligosaccharides have been used to mimic the prebiotic effect of breast-feeding. A second focus has been related to the question of whether the prebiotic activity has beneficial effects on the postnatal development of the immune system. The data clearly demonstrate that prebiotics of nonmilk origin can mimic the prebiotic effect of breast-feeding, and this has positive consequences for the postnatal development of the immune system.