Early Life Nutrition

Immune system and the role of oligosaccharides


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At birth, an infant’s immune system is still immature. In their first year of life, more than half of infants suffer from respiratory illnesses such as a cough, flu or wheezing (1). There are indications that the composition of the intestinal microflora plays an important role in postnatal immune system development. (2)

Galacto-oligosaccharides can reduce the incidence of infections

Galacto-oligosaccharides can reduce the incidence of infections

Several studies have shown that the consumption of oligosaccharides, including Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), has an impact on the incidence of infections in infants. These studies found that the overall number of infections including respiratory tract infections, intestinal infections and fever episodes as well as antibiotic prescription, were significantly lower in the group that consumed oligosaccharides.(3)

GOS are non-digestible carbohydrates, also known as prebiotics*, which are almost not broken down by human digestive enzymes. Because of this, they reach the intestine nearly completely intact and are fermented in the large intestine by the microflora present. Bifidobacteria are the most common bacteria in the infant intestinal microflora. They are easily able to ferment GOS, which results in the stimulation of their growth in the colon (4) and competing with the development of pathogenic bacteria. A substantial number of studies of formula-fed infants have shown that infant formula containing Vivinal® GOS resulted in a significant increase in Bifidobacteria, in comparison to infants receiving a standard formula without GOS (5). Consequently, both GOS and Bifidobacteria act then in symbiosis.

Vivinal® GOS can therefore play an important role in the colonization of the new-born microbiota by increasing the growth of bifidogenic bacteria and thus contributing to the normal functioning of infant’s immune system.

Organic is growing in popularity

Organic is growing in popularity

The demand for organic products has gained popularity in recent years as consumers increasingly consider the health and environmental consequences of their food choices. The Infant & Toddler Organic market has experienced particularly strong development, reporting a significant value growth of 30% in 2019. This trend is expected to continue as forecasts indicate a growth pace of 13% CAGR in the 5 coming years (6).

Within the Infant & Toddler category, product launches containing GOS have also increased. In recent years (2016-2019), the product introductions have doubled, with China being most predominant market. Of these introductions, the Organic share has also doubled to a current 13% (May 2020) (7).

Meet our Vivinal® GOS Syrup Organic

Meet our Vivinal® GOS Syrup Organic

More than 85% of parents have expressed concern about the immune system of their infant and would be inclined to purchase an infant formula with the benefit of ‘supporting child’s immune system’ (8). To meet consumer demand and help support infant nutrition with a distinctive organic proposition, we have made an addition to in our ingredient portfolio : Vivinal® GOS Syrup Organic.

At FrieslandCampina, we have been pioneers in the production of galacto-oligosaccharides and a large number of clinical studies substantiating the health benefits of our Vivinal® GOS ingredient are currently available. Vivinal® GOS syrup Organic is certified organic according to EU, US and Chinese standards. It is an ideal addition to Organic infant formula.

Would you like to know more? Feel free to get in touch or request a sample.

Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for new-born infants. In cases when breastfeeding is not, or insufficiently, available, infant formula is the only safe alternative.

*The scientific definition of a prebiotic is: nondigestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon. (Source: Gibson, G.R. and Roberfroid, M.B., “Dietary Modulation of  the Human Colonic Microbiota: Introducing the Concept of  Prebiotics,” Journal of Nutrition, 125: 1401-1412 (1995)). Whether you can use the claim prebiotic on your products depends on local legislation.


(1)Cimigo, Healthcare Professional Survey, conducted in China, Malaysia, Russia and Vietnam amongst 541 healthcare

professionals, 2010.

(2) Björkstén B, Sepp E, et al. Allergy Development and the intestinal microflora during the first year of life. Journal of allergy and Clinical Immunology2001;108(4):516-520.

(3) Bruzzese E, Volpicelli M, et al. A formula containing galacto- and fructooligosaccharides prevents intestinal and extra-intestinal infections: an observational study. Clin Nutr 2009;28(2):156-161.

(4) Maathuis A.J.H., Heuvel van den E.G., et al. Galacto-oligosaccharides have prebiotic activity in a dynamic in vitro colon model using a 13C-labeling technique. J. Nutr. 2012:142(7):1205-1212.

(5) Ben XM, Zhou XY, et al. Supplementation of milk formula with galacto-oligosaccharides improves intestinal micro-flora and fermentation in term infants. Chin Med J (Engl ) 2004;117(6):927-931.

(6) Euromonitor International, world market sizes Organic Infant & Toddler category, 2019-2024.

(7) Innova Market Insights, Product database, world product launches containing GOS ingredient in Infant milk formula category, 2016-2019

(8) YouGov, study on Mothers’ preferences for infant/ baby formulas (0-4 years)​, conducted in UK, France, Germany, US, China, Indonesia and Korea, n=5.658, 2018.

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