Impact of dietary fibers in infant formulas on gut microbiota and the intestinal immune barrier
Human milk (HM) is the gold standard for the nutrition of infants. An important component of HM is human milk oligosaccharides (hMOs), which play an important role in gut microbiota colonization and gut immune barrier establishment, and thereby contribute to the maturation of the immune system in early life. Guiding these processes is important as disturbances have life-long health effects and can lead to the development of allergic diseases. Unfortunately, not all infants can be exclusively fed with HM. These infants are routinely fed with infant formulas that contain hMO analogs and other non-digestible carbohydrates (NDCs) to mimic the effects of hMOs. Currently, the hMO analogs 2′-fucosyllactose (2′-FL), galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), and pectins are added to infant formulas; however, these NDCs cannot mimic all hMO functions and therefore new NDCs and NDC mixtures need to become available for specific groups of neonates like preterm and disease-prone neonates. In this review, we discuss human data on the beneficial effects of infant formula supplements such as the specific hMO analog 2′-FL and NDCs as well as their mechanism of effects like stimulation of microbiota development, maturation of different parts of the gut immune barrier and anti-pathogenic effects. Insights into the structure-specific mechanisms by which hMOs and NDCs exert their beneficial functions might contribute to the development of new tailored NDCs and NDC mixtures. We also describe the needs for new in vitro systems that can be used for research on hMOs and NDCs. The current data suggest that “tailored infant formulas” for infants of different ages and healthy statuses are needed to ensure a healthy development of the microbiota and the gut immune system of infants.