Got Milk? Human Milk and Preibiotics

Got Milk? Human Milk and Preibiotics

For years human milk has been researched and studied in hopes to better understand its composition and benefits. In the study published in the British Journal of nutrition entitled “Prebiotic consumption in pregnant and lactating women increases IL-27 expression in human milk,” researchers provide evidence which shows human milk composition can be influenced by prebiotic consumption, specifically fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). Both mRNA expression and protein concentrations of IL-27 in colostrum and in one month breast milk were significantly higher in the (FOS) group than those from the control group. This paper supports prebiotic consumption in pregnant and lactating women because this study shows that it increases IL-27 expression in human milk.1

This is a randomized double blind trial study where 64 pregnant and lactating women were randomly assigned either to the FOS group (35) or the control group (29). They were all patients at the Masuda Maternity Clinic in Chiba prefecture in Japan. The FOS group consumed 4 g of the trial compound twice a day, after breakfast and supper.  They ate it for 26 weeks of gestation to one month after delivery. The control group was similar with the FOS group except their trial compound was sucrose. Both groups were expected to eat the products at least 80 % of the time. Subjects were given diaries to record their consumption and to characterize eating habits. All participants were given a food frequency questioner (FFQ) upon initiation of enrollment (26 weeks of gestation) and 10 weeks later. Colostrum and breast milk samples were collected after childbirth and one month later.  A baseline serum IL-27 was collected during the subject’s hospitalization.  Eight colostrum and three one month breast milk samples were randomly chosen from each group and analyzed and compared. The samples were not collected from the same subjects. In colostrum samples the IL-27 was significantly higher (<0.156-46.6ng/ml) than the placebo group (P-0.027).  In comparing the one month breast milk, the FOS group had significantly higher concentrations of IL -27 (<0.156-32.6ng/ml)than the placebo group (P-0.040). There was no difference between the two groups with regard to soluble CD14, IgA and TGF-B1 in colostrum samples. Measurement of IL-27 from maternal blood samples and colostrum samples revealed no correlation which suggests that the IL-27 in breast milk is mainly produced by macrophages in breast milk.

This is a strong study because it was a randomized and double blind which filters out maximum bias.  It must be acknowledged that the subject’s diets were not controlled in anyway. They were each asked to keep a diary recording each dose taken and fill out two FFQs. those in the placebo group were excluded if they consumed marketed oligosaccharides in other products more than 2 days a week.

There have been several studies on the composition of breast milk and prebiotics. Both pre and probiotics are very similar. Prebiotics increases the function of probiotics by stimulate their growth and activity. 2, 3 Research has shown that it is critical to establish gut microbiota for intestinal homeostasis which in turn effects the development of the host’s immune system.3   Breast-fed babies have higher levels and abundance of bifidobacteria and lower levels of pathogens than formula fed babies.4 In a study the breast milk of 20 mothers and the fecal samples of their full term babies were assessed.  The mothers and their babies had identical profiles of bifidobacterial strains. This suggests one method that the microbiota from the mother is passed through to the infant is through breast milk.5  Another double blind placebo controlled trial study was conducted with pregnant women who had a history of or active allergic disease.  For two months before delivery and two months after the mothers in the experimental group ate the recommended prebiotics.  Results of the study showed that breast milk may reduce the risk of infant eczema.6  

The immune system and digestive system connection has the attention of the scientific community. Breast milk benefits the developing infant in several ways.  One specific way is in the development of the infants gut microbiota.  This study offers evidence that mRNA expression and protein concentrations of IL-27 in colostrum and in one month breast milk were significantly higher in the (FOS) group than those from the control group. This finding is another significant step in understanding breast milk and host connection as well as the possible benefits of prebiotic. For further information on breastfeeding go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site on breastfeeding at:

Link to the Study:

Ranking: Plus: 2 green apples


1.Kubota T, Shimojo N, Nonaka K, et al. Prebiotic consumption in pregnant and lactating woman increases IL-27expression in human milk. Brit J Nutr.2014; 111: 625–32.

2..Kadlec R, Jakubec M. The effect of prebiotics and adherence of probiotics.         J Dairy Sci. April 2014;97(4):1983-90.

3. Oozeer R. van Limpt K,Ludwig T, et al. Intestinal microbiology in early life: specific prebiotics can have similar functionalities as human-milk oligosaccharides. Am J ClinNutr.2013;98(suppl):561S71S.

4. Salazar N, Arboleya S, Valdes L, Stanton C, et al. The human intestinal microbiom at extreme ages of life. Dietary intervention as a way to counteract alterations. Front Genet. 2014 Nov 21;5:406

5. Solis G, Reyes-Gavilan C, Fernandez N, Margolles A, et al. Establishment and development of lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria microbiota in breast-milk and the infant gut. Anaerobe 2010Jun, 16(3):307-10

6.Rautava S, Kainonen E, Salminen S, Isolauri E. Maternal probiotic supplementation during pregnancy and breast-feeding reduces the risk of eczema in the infant. J Allergy ClinImmunol.2012; Dec;130(6):1355-60.

Reviewed by: Emilee Firth
















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