The authors reviewed the published evidence on the presence of oligosaccharides in human milk (HMO) and their benefits in in vitro and in vivo studies. The still limited data of trials evaluating the effect of mainly 2'-fucosyllactose (2'-FL) on the addition of some of HMOs to infant formula were also reviewed. PubMed was searched from January 1990 to April 2018. The amount of HMOs in mother's milk is a dynamic process as it changes over time. Many factors, such as duration of lactation, environmental, and genetic factors, influence the amount of HMOs. HMOs may support immune function development and provide protection against infectious diseases directly through the interaction of the gut epithelial cells or indirectly through the modulation of the gut microbiota, including the stimulation of the bifidobacteria. The limited clinical data suggest that the addition of HMOs to infant formula seems to be safe and well tolerated, inducing a normal growth and suggesting a trend towards health benefits. HMOs are one of the major differences between cow's milk and human milk, and available evidence indicates that these components do have a health promoting benefit. The addition of one or two of these components to infant formula is safe, and brings infant formula closer to human milk. More prospective, randomized trials in infants are need to evaluate the clinical benefit of supplementing infant formula with HMOs.
Keywords: 2′-fucosyllactose; Lacto-N-neotetraose; bifidobacteria; breast feeding; formula feeding; human milk oligosaccharide; microbiota.