I’d like you to get familiar with the acronym H-M-O.
Every time I hear “HMO” the first thing that comes to mind is the HMO health plan. You know? HMO vs. PPO and all that. In that context HMO stands for “Health Maintenance Organization.” But I have a feeling we’ll all be hearing about a very different meaning for the HMO acronym over the next few months: Human Milk Oligosaccharides. When I first heard about HMO it sounded quite similar to Colostrum, which is a form of “pre-milk” from cows. There are certainly some similarities, but the truth is that HMO is structurally different at the molecular level and it’s pretty new, versus Colostrum, which has been around for a while and does not tout the same overall benefits as HMO.
Human Milk Oligosaccharide aka “HMO” came onto my radar relatively recently and I was instantly intrigued. HMO has been profiled in Bloomberg and mentioned on The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast, but it wasn’t until I delved deeper that I grasped how much of a game-changer HMO really is.
HMO is a natural component of breast milk that acts as a prebiotic for infants who are breastfeeding. There is a wealth of research pointing to how HMO helps to encode the infant gut lining and immune system by positively altering bacteria in the gut. Specifically, HMO is proven to amplify Bifidobacteria, which in turn, leads to an increase in Short Chain Fatty Acids. The most important of those is Butyrate. All said and done, HMO provides a lot of benefit for babies. Scientists have known about HMO for more than a century and began researching ways to provide the benefits of HMO for babies who are not breastfed. Some companies looked at whether they could simply extract HMO from real breastmilk, but this idea was short-lived as it didn’t work at scale – for pretty obvious reasons.
Circa 2015, the major baby formula brands such as Enfamil and Similac, began putting HMO into their formulas. This HMO did not contain any human milk but was created via the precise fermentation and purification of lactose. The end result? A molecular structure that was bio-identical to the HMO in human breast milk. Voila. Naturally, the substantial health benefits from HMO for infants led researchers and companies to wonder whether HMO would benefit adults as well. Clinical studies show that thankfully, it does. According to one clinical study performed at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, HMO improved bowel function in IBS patients and also improved all symptoms related to IBS. This is not to be understated. Other studies in EU nations such as Denmark and Sweden showed safety and tolerance of HMO in adults and improvements of the intestinal microbiota in IBS patients. In infants, HMOs have been proven to support development of the gut lining, immune system strength, and brain development. More research in adults is needed, but the trials thus far have shown significant benefit as it relates to gut health. It seems that immune and cognitive benefits, if they exist for adult populations, would be the proverbial “cherry on top.”
From approximately 2019-2020, as word of the efficacy of HMO spread into the fringes of the “health community”, some adults were so desperate to get HMO, that they began drinking baby formula with HMO to reap the benefits. Anecdotally, some say that the ingestion of the HMO baby formula helped them to overcome a lifetime of lactose intolerance.
Circa 2018-2019, a company in Denmark launched an HMO supplement designed for adults and in 2020, a New York company came out with a complete line of HMO supplements designed specifically for adults. That company is called Layer Origin Nutrition and I’m a big fan of their HMO because it’s third-party tested, made in New York City, and has really high purity.
The key is, we know how the microbiome impacts everything from our skin, to our mental health, to our digestive health and immunity. It’s not just about your gut. So supplementing with HMO can be a truly remarkable choice for boosting your overall health.
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If you’re interested in trying Layer Origin Nutrition’s HMO, they’re offering my listeners 25% off their first order.
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