At present, the Chinese authorities do not permit the use of HMOs such as 2’-fucosyllactose (2’-FL) in infant formula. As such, products containing HMOs are entering China via cross-border e-commerce.
The three products that Nestle China has launched are Alfamino HMO, Althera HMO, and Alfare HMO, catered to infants between 0 and 12 months old.
The HMOs used in these products are 2’-FL and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT). Other nutrients such as DHA and ARA are also added.
While they are new to China, these products are already available in other countries such as Australia, and European countries Switzerland, Sweden, UK, the US etc.
According to Nestle Health Science Greater China vice president – business executive officer Cecily Gu, the three products could stimulate infants’ natural immune system, while alleviating symptoms of food allergies.
This is because cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) is an immune-mediate disease associated with gut microbiota dysbiosis, which in turn impacts immune system maturation and increased risk of infections and future allergies.
“The cross-border listing of non-allergic amino acid formulas are undoubtedly breakthrough new products in the ‘anti-allergy’ formula category.
“With the proven safe addition of HMO to the formula, we see the additional benefits of infection and medication reduction, and stimulation of the CMPA infants' natural ‘self-protection’.
“This is in addition to the formula’s existing key benefits of effectively alleviating allergic symptoms and supporting growth and development.”
The three products are all categorised as formulas for special medical purposes but they differ in their functions and slightly in their composition.
Alfamino HMO, for example, is an amino acid-based, hypoallergenic formula for the dietary management of severe cow’s milk allergy, and/or multiple food allergies.
A paper published in Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition last year reported that the formula could support normal growth of infants till nine months of age in Chinese infants with symptoms suggestive of CMPA. The study was funded by Nestle Health Science.
Althera HMO, on the other hand, is an extensively hydrolysed, hypoallergenic formula for the dietary management of CMPA.
Alfare HMO is also an extensively hydrolysed, lactose-free, hypoallergenic formula for the dietary management of food allergies / intolerances and gastrointestinal disorders.
The use of HMOs in infant nutrition is a popular practice and there are even companies that have developed the concept of HMObiotics – where HMOs are paired together with specific probiotic strains.
The Chinese authority has started to seek public comments last month on the use of 2’-FL in infant formula and foods for toddlers and young children – after receiving three industry applications for approval of 2’-FL as of November last year.
Asked if they were one of the applicants, Nestle China has declined to make any disclosure.