Could HMOs be the new gold standard for gut health innovation? Scientific study compares HMOs to traditional prebiotics

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors



  • Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) continue to pique the interest of supplement developers across the health and nutrition landscape – following rising awareness of their potential widespread benefits for human health beyond infancy.
  • The growing curiosity in these unique molecules has been fueled by mounting science, boosted by dsm-firmenich’s commitment to research and development in the field.
  • Discover the findings of a newly published study conducted by dsm-firmenich, which investigated how HMOs might affect the gut microbiota of adults and children compared to standard prebiotics – a dominant ingredient in the gut health category.


The humble HMO

An important component of breast milk, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) have been nourishing infants since the dawn of time – and have more recently become a novel ingredient for early life nutrition innovation. But they’re gaining considerable interest in other markets too, including dietary supplements…

Cutting-edge advancements in technology have made it possible to explore and leverage the potential benefits of HMO ingredients throughout life, including in adults – and the science that has unfolded has been enormously promising. Read on to uncover the outcomes of a new study published in Nutrients which explored just that – and revealed some interesting insights when comparing HMOs to standard prebiotic ingredients.

More than a ‘standard’ prebiotic

HMOs are considered a next generation prebiotic. Probiotics and prebiotics are among the dominant ingredients powering innovation in the gut health category. Thus, with HMOs demonstrating potential as a novel gut microbiome ingredient, could they be the key to next-generation dietary supplements in the gut health space?

That’s exactly what a new study by dsm-firmenich, published in the world-renowned Nutrients publication, set out to investigate. The trial explored how HMOs might affect the gut microbiota of adults and children compared to standard prebiotics, fructooligosaccharide (FOS) and Inulin 1. Using dsm-firmenich’s GlyCare™ HMOs (2’Fucosyllactose [2’FL], Lacto-N-neotetraose [LNnT], 3’Sialyllactose [3’SL] and 6’Sialyllactose [6’SL] ), the research revealed some interesting insights about the benefits of the nutrients in contrast to FOS and Inulin.

New HMO research from dsm-firmenich: key takeaways

The study demonstrated that dsm-firmenich’s HMOs exerted more potent bifidogenic effects (i.e., stimulated the growth of bifidobacteria in the gut more effectively) compared to FOS and Inulin prebiotics. 2′FL and LNnT were bifidogenic for both age groups, whereas 3′SL and 6′SL were exclusively bifidogenic for children and FOS and Inulin were exclusively bifidogenic for adults. This originated from age-related differences in microbiota composition – because 3′SL and 6′SL stimulate B. pseudocatenulatum, which is abundant in children, whereas FOS and Inulin prebiotics enhance B. adolescentis, which is plentiful in adults.

The HMOs and HMO blends maintained a higher microbial diversity than the prebiotic references too. This suggests that blends of HMOs could maximize the effect of supplements because different HMO structures have distinctive effects in the body. Intake of diverse HMOs could be especially relevant in individuals where beneficial bacteria species are present in low abundance – for example senior adults, individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or people who have just taken a course of antibiotics.

In summary, the findings advocate for the development of age-specific nutritional supplements targeted towards gut support.

What does this mean for innovators in the dietary supplement space?

The newly published study in Nutrients further illustrates the exciting potential of HMO ingredients for dietary supplement innovation – once again in the gut health category – and highlights how dsm-firmenich is pioneering the future of the category through a robust commitment to science.

With probiotics leading the market, and prebiotics gaining more attention, the company has been able to demonstrate how HMOs’ unique qualities beyond prebiotic effects are helping to advance the development of next-generation nutritional solutions.

More than an ingredient supplier: unlock the magic of HMOs with dsm-firmenich

As the bank of positive scientific evidence grows, interest in HMOs will only flourish - which is why we’re on-hand to share our expertise and portfolio of evidence-based HMO ingredients with dietary supplement developers.

With momentum behind HMOs intensifying, dsm-firmenich is committed to investigating their potential in human health and remaining at the forefront of exciting breakthroughs in the gut health space. The company is genuinely passionate about advancing the research behind HMO ingredients to unlock their science-based benefits for children and adults globally; powered by a rich program of preclinical and clinical studies supported by more than 40 research and strategic partners across the world.

The HMO Donation Program was established in 2010 to help expand the knowledge behind these important molecules and support new scientific discoveries in the emerging field. Through the donation program, dsm-firmenich makes a large variety of HMO molecules available for research. The program has supported 100+ research projects, spanning 55 research centers worldwide to date – leading to the publication of 50+ scientific papers, and counting!

More exciting research is in the pipeline…so watch this space for further scientific developments from the dsm-firmenich team. In the meantime, check out our HMO dietary supplement hub for more information on how we’re harnessing the power of next generation HMO ingredients.

Published on

29 August 2023


4 min read

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