Goat milk infant formula may have strong prebiotic and anti-infection properties that can protect infants against gastrointestinal infections, a study has found.
The study looked at oligosaccharides, a type of prebiotic that can boost the growth of beneficial bacteria and protect against harmful bacteria in the gut.
Researchers at RMIT University in Australia found 14 naturally-occurring prebiotic oligosaccharides in the goat milk formula. Five of these are also found in human breast milk.
The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, was the first to reveal the diversity of oligosaccharides in goat's milk-based infant formula and their similarity to human milk.
"The study indicates the prebiotic oligosaccharides in goat milk formula are effective at selectively promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut," said Harsharn Gill, professor at the university.
"While these laboratory results are promising, further research, including clinical trials will help us to confirm these benefits for infants," Gill said.
Human milk contains an abundant supply and diverse array of oligosaccharides that are known to offer significant health benefits to babies, including the establishment and maintenance of a healthy gut microflora, immune development and protection against gastrointestinal infections.
When breastfeeding is not possible or insufficient, infant formulas are commonly used as an alternative but there is limited information available about the oligosaccharides they may contain or their likely health benefits.
The study examined the presence of naturally occurring oligosaccharides in two goat milk formulas (Oli6 Stage 1 for babies aged 0-6 months and Oli6 Stage 2 for babies aged 6-12 months) and their prebiotic and anti-infection properties.
While cow milk formula is the most widely used alternative to breastfeeding, goat milk is considered to be closer to human milk in some respects, especially oligosaccharides.
The study found the natural prebiotic oligosaccharides in the goat milk formula were effective in promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria (bifidobacteria) and inhibiting the ability of harmful bacteria such as pathogenic E. coli to attach to human intestinal cells.
Almost one third of all cases of diarrhea in children are attributed to pathogenic E. coli bacteria.
The researchers found two types of oligosaccharides - fucosylated and sialylated - were most heavily present in the goat milk formula.
"Fucosylated are the most abundant oligosaccharides in human milk and are the focus of significant commercial and regulatory interest," Gill said.