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What’s normal? Oligosaccharide concentrations and profiles in milk produced by healthy women vary geographically.

Author: McGuire MK, Meehan CL, McGuire MA, Williams JE, Foster J, Sellen DW et al. | Journal: Clinical Nutrition

Volume: 105
Issue: 5
DOI:10.3945/ajcn.116.139980 ​​​​​​​
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Background: Human milk is a complex fluid comprised of myriad substances, with one of the most abundant substances being a group of complex carbohydrates referred to as human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). There has been some evidence that HMO profiles differ in populations, but few studies have rigorously explored this variability.​​​​​​​
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Objectives:We tested the hypothesis that HMO profiles differ in diverse populations of healthy women. Next, we examined relations between HMO and maternal anthropometric and reproductive indexes and indirectly examined whether differences were likely related to genetic or environmental variations. Design: In this cross-sectional, observational study, milk was collected from a total of 410 healthy, breastfeeding women in 11 international cohorts and analyzed for HMOs by using high-performance liquid chromatography.​​​​​​​
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Results: There was an effect of the cohort (P<0.05) on concentrations of almost all HMOs. For instance, the mean 3-fucosyllactose concentration was >4 times higher in milk collected in Sweden than in milk collected in rural Gambia (mean ±SEM: 473 ± 55 compared with 103 ± 16 nmol/mL, respectively; P <0.05), and disialyllacto-N-tetraose (DSLNT) concentrations ranged from 216 ± 14 nmol/mL (in Sweden) to 870 ± 68 nmol/mL (in rural Gambia) (P <0.05). Maternal age, time postpartum, weight, and body mass index were all correlated with several HMOs, and multiple differences in HMOs [e.g., lacto-N-neotetrose and DSLNT] were shown between ethnically similar (and likely genetically similar) populations who were living in different locations, which suggests that the environment may play a role in regulating the synthesis of HMOs.​​​​​​​
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​​​​​​​ Conclusion:The results of this study support our hypothesis that normal HMO concentrations and profiles vary geographically, even in healthy women. Targeted genomic analyses are required to determine whether these differences are due at least in part to genetic variation. A careful examination of sociocultural, behavioral, and environmental factors is needed to determine their roles in this regard. Read More

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