Give Your Children A Head-Start To Life-Long Health

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Build the right nutritional foundation in the first 1000 days of their lives. By Marianne Heer, Scientific Marketing Manager, Human Nutrition of BASF SE.


All parents are concerned about their children’s healthy growth and development and want to do all they can to give their child the best start to a healthy and happy life.

A full-term pregnancy and optimal nutrition are cornerstones to make that happen. Optimal nutrition during the first 1000 days is important for normal growth and motor skill development, cognition, learning abilities and healthy immune functions. In addition, research suggests that the right nutrition during early life may reduce the risk of developing non-communicable diseases and obesity in later life, thus shaping lifelong health.

Human milk is the optimal diet for newborn infants and mothers should be encouraged to breast-feed whenever possible. When breast-feeding is not possible, infant milk formulas are available as the next best alternative.


Human Milk—A “Goldmine” Of Bioactive Compounds

Human milk serves as the perfect blueprint for the composition of infant milk formula. Scientists are continuously working on identifying and understanding the bioactivity of breast milk components with the objective to make them available for the use in infant milk formulas.

The composition of infant milk formulas is highly regulated, and any new ingredient must undergo thorough evaluation by authorities before authorisation for use.


Human Milk Oligosaccharides—THE Most Recent Breakthrough Innovation

Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMO) are a group of complex carbohydrates, making up the third largest solid component in human milk (~ 5 – 20 g / l). 2’-Fucosyllactose (2’-FL) is the most abundant of about 200 molecules that have been identified to-date.

Following many years of research, the first commercial products with added 2’-FL have been successfully launched in the market recently.

The beneficial effects of 2’-FL in breast milk have been documented since the early 2000s, where data from mother-infant pairs prospectively studied from birth to the age of two years showed that campylobacter diarrhea occurred less often in infants whose mother’s milk contained high levels of 2’FL (Morrow A and GM Ruiz-Palacios 2004). More recently, associations observed between the level of 2’-FL in human milk and the development of allergies in infants and young children also indicate that HMOs may have a preventative role in infants with high allergy risk (Sprenger N, 2017).

In clinical intervention studies, infant formulas with added 2’-FL proved to be well tolerated, safe and led to growth rates like those of breast-fed controls. (Marriage B et al., 2015, Puccio G et al., 2017).

The inflammatory cytokine profile of infants receiving a formula with 2’-FL in addition to galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) was similar to that seen in breast-fed infants, but significantly different from that in infants receiving a formula with GOS only (Goehring KC et al., 2016). Clinical data also revealed that infants consuming infant formula with added HMOs had significantly lower rates of respiratory tract infections, compared to the group receiving a standard formula without HMOs (Puccio G et al., 2017).

Pre-clinical data suggest three main mechanisms that lead to the positive effects of HMOs documented in clinical trials:

  • Prebiotic effects—selectively stimulating the growth of Bifidobacteria and nourishing the beneficial microbiota
  • Immune modulation—by direct interaction with the immune cells and thus supporting gut maturation and strength of the intestinal barrier
  • Antiadhesive effects for pathogens—by acting as a decoy receptor for pathogens and thus facilitating their elimination

Evidence from clinical and pre-clinical studies are very promising and underpins the importance of HMO—specifically 2’-FL—for the healthy development of infants and young children.


Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPUFA)—An Established Innovation In Infant & Maternal Nutrition

The long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) and arachidonic acid (ARA, 20:4n-6) are always present in human milk. These fatty acids are integral components of cell membranes and they are involved in normal cell functions; DHA is most important in some very specialised cells in the eye and the cortex of the brain.

The first 1000 days of life are the key phase of brain development—a particular growth spurt occurs from the last trimester of pregnancy up to two years of age. Since endogenous DHA formation is low, adequate nutritional supply is key to ensure optimal conditions for structural brain development, neuronal cell growth and differentiation.

While breast-fed infants receive these PCPUFA via human milk, LCPUFA content in bovine milk is very low, so many infant formulas nowadays are supplemented with DHA and ARA to ensure adequate supply during the time of rapid development. In some regions like the European Union, the addition of DHA to infant formula is mandatory.

Maternal diet during pregnancy influences maternal DHA status in late pregnancy by releasing these from the mother’s tissue stores, especially in the last trimester of pregnancy. The placenta has the capability to actively extract DHA from the maternal circulation to prevent a deficiency. Adequate DHA supply during fetal stage can positively influence body composition of the child and have long-term benefits for immune functions, including the risk of allergic disease. The Food and Agriculture Organization, European Food Safety Authority and Chinese DRI 2013 recommend a minimum DHA intake of 200 mg/day for pregnant women. Recent studies indicate that higher maternal DHA intakes (600-800 mg/day) can have additional benefits by protecting against preterm birth.

During lactation, the mammary gland has no mechanisms to maintain individual fatty acids constant with varying maternal intakes. Thus, it is most important during this period to avoid a deficiency that may be detrimental to the infant.

Choosing a DHA supplier with strong expertise in producing a high quality DHA with superior sensory properties, along with a proven ability to develop formulations with optimised absorption will help to improve maternal compliance and health development of the infant.


BASF – because Early Life Nutrition is a matter of trust

With more than 150 years of history, BASF is one of the key trusted partners in the industry. Relevant solutions for Early Life Nutrition include key vitamins, lutein, omega-3 oils and powders and HMO 2’-FL. Protecting our customers’ most precious and vulnerable consumers and giving them the best start to life is a commitment we make in our vision to provide the right nutrients to the right people at the right time.