30 March 2023

As many infants receive mother milk as their primary nutrition, the role of breastfeeding on infant development has been extensively investigated. However, we know much less on the specific constituents in mother milk. Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are one of the most abundant solid components, and have been related to better offspring cognition in animal and some human studies. So far, no human study had investigated early life HMO exposure more extensively. We investigated relations between concentrations of different HMOs in mother milk and toddler cognitive capacities (i.e. executive functions).

This study, from Carolina de Weerth, together with Yvonne Willemsen and Roseriet Beijers from the department of Cognitive Neuroscience, in collaboration with Henk Schols and Fangjie Gu from the laboratory of Food Chemistry at Wageningen University & Research, and Alejandro Arias Vasquez from the department of Psychiatry and Human Genetics at Radboudumc, was published in Nutrients on 17 March, 2023.

At infant age 2, 6, and 12 weeks, a sample of human milk was collected by mothers who were exclusively (n=45) or partially breastfeeding (n=18). HMO concentrations of 2′-fucosyllactose, 3′-sialyllactose, 6′-sialyllactose, grouped fucosylated HMOs, and grouped sialylated HMOs were analysed by use of porous graphitized carbon-ultra high-performance liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry. Executive functions were assessed at age 3 years with behavioural tasks and executive function questionnaires independently filled in by mothers and their partners.

Results indicated that higher concentrations of 2′-fucosyllactose and grouped fucosylated HMOs over the first 12 weeks of life were associated with better toddler executive functions, while concentrations of grouped sialylated HMOs were associated with worse executive functions. To uncover sensitive periods and potential causal relations, future studies should sample human milk frequently during the first months of life and employ experimental HMO administration studies in exclusively formula-fed infants.


Read the research here:Willemsen Y, Beijers R, Gu F, Vasquez AA, Schols HA, de Weerth C. Fucosylated Human Milk Oligosaccharides during the First 12 Postnatal Weeks Are Associated with Better Executive Functions in Toddlers. Nutrients. 2023; 15(6):1463. 

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