Human milk contains extremely diverse sugar molecules, called oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides are so complex that attempting to synthesize them in a lab would be difficult and extremely expensive.
So what’s the big deal? Well, oligosaccharides protect infants against disease, and they’re really important in the colonization of healthy bacteria in the gut. And recent research suggests that they could possibly reduce inflammation and fight E. coli, salmonella, cholera, rotavirus, and norovirus!
Because of these beneficial properties, nutritional scientists at UC San Diego suggest using donor breast milk in cases when a baby is unable to be breastfed, claiming that pasteurized breast milk from donor milk banks is far superior to infant formula.
Unfortunately, in the U.S., there aren’t many milk banks… yet. So researchers are working to identify beneficial oligosaccharides in by-products of cow’s milk- not as beneficial as human oligosaccharides, but better than anything that can currently be synthesized in a lab.
While it’s well-known that “breast is best,” there are plenty of cases where breastfeeding isn’t an option. And until more support grows for donor milk banks, we’ll look to the researchers and the cows for these sugar superheroes!