, Volume 41, Issue 9, pp 851–858 | Cite as

Human milk fatty acid composition from nine countries varies most in DHA

  • Rebecca Yuhas
  • Kathryn Pramuk
  • Eric L. Lien


Many published studies of breast milk FA composition are limited to populations from one or two countries. We aimed to examine the degree to which FA compositions vary across a number of diverse populations. Because diet and maternal adipose stores influence breast milk FA composition, differences in FA composition between groups most likely reflect habitual dietary differences. Approximately 50 breast milk samples (full breast expression) were collected from women in Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The proportion of saturated FA was relatively constant among countries, with the exception of the Philippines, where levels of lauric and myristic acids were elevated (means greater than two times the mean of most other countries). Monounsaturated FA also varied little, with the exception of low levels of oleic acid in the Philippines and high levels of erucic acid in China. Although arachidonic acid (C20∶4n−6) levels were similar among all countries (means ranging from 0.36 wt% to 0.49 wt%), mean DHA (C22∶6n−3) levels ranged from 0.17 to 0.99 wt%, with the highest levels in Japanese milk and the lowest levels in Canadian and U.S. samples. The results of this study demonstrate that the proportion of saturated and monounsaturated FA are relatively constant across a large number of countries, whereas the level of some of the PUFA, especially DHA, are highly variable.


Milk Sample Total Fatty Acid Human Milk Erucic Acid Myristic Acid 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



arachidonic acid


alpha-linolenic acid


docosahexaenoic acid


eieosapentaenoic acid


fatty acid


linoleic acid; long-chain PUFA (LCP)


polyunsaturated fatty acid


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Koletzko, B., Mrotzek, M., and Bremer, H.J. (1986) Fat Content and cis- and trans-Isomeric Fatty Acids in Human Fore- and Hindmilk, Hum. Lactation Maternal Environ. Factors 2, 589–594.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Raiha, N.C.R., and Axelsson, I.E. (1995) Protein Nutrition During Infancy, Pediatr. Clin. N. Amer. 42, 745–764.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Francois, C.A., Connor, S.L., Wander, R.C., and Connor, W.E. (1998) Acute Effects of Dietary Fatty Acids on the Fatty Acids of Human Milk, Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 67, 301–308.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Canfield, L.M., Clandinin, M.T., Davies, D.P., Fernandez, M.C., Jackson, J., Hawkes, J., Goldman, W.J., Pramuk, K., Reyes, H., Sablan, B., Sonobe, T., and Bo, X. (2003) Multinational Study of Major Breast Milk Carotenoids of Healthy Mothers, Eur. J. Nutr. 42, 133–141.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Olafsdottir, A.S., Wagner K.H., Thorsdottir, I., and Elmadfa, I. (2001) Fat-Soluble Vitamins in the Maternal Diet, Influence of Cod Liver Oil Supplementation and Impact of the Maternal Diet on Human Milk Composition, Ann. Nutr. Metab. 45, 265–272.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Wang, L., Shimizu, Y., Kaneko, S., Hanaka, S., Abe, T., Shimasaki, H., Hisaki, H., and Nakajima, H. (2000) Comparison of the Fatty Acid Composition of Total Lipids and Phospholipids in Breast Milk from Japanese Women, Ped. Int. 42, 14–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Innis, S.M., and Kuhnlein, H.V. (1988) Long-Chain n−3 Fatty Acids in Breast Milk of Inuit Women Consuming Traditional Foods, Early Human Dev. 18, 185–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Helland, I.B., Saarem, K., Saugstad, O.D., Drevon, C.A. (1998) Fatty Acid Composition in Maternal Milk and Plasma During Supplementation with Cod Liver Oil, Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 52, 839–845.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Makrides, M., Neumann, M.A., and Gibson, R.A. (1996) Effect of Maternal Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Supplementation on Breast Milk Composition, Eur. J. Clin. Nut. 50, 352–357.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Jensen, R.G., Lammi-Keefe, C.J., Henderson, R.A., Bush, V.J., and Ferris, A.M. (1992) Effects of Dietary Intake of n−6 and n−3 Fatty Acids on the Fatty Acid Composition of Human Milk in North American, J. Pediatr. 120, S87-S92.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Jensen, R.G. (1999) Lipids in Human Milk, Lipids 34, 1243–1271.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Rocquelin, G., Tapsoba, S., Dop, M.C., Mbemba, F., Traissac, P., and Martin-Prevel, Y. (1998) Lipid Content and Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) Composition of Mature Congolese Breast Milk Are Influenced by Mothers' Nutritional Status: Impact on Infants' EFA Supply, Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 52, 164–171.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    van der Westhuyzen, J., Chetty, N., and Atkinson, P.M. (1988) Fatty Acid Composition of Human Milk from South African Black Mothers Consuming a Traditional Maize Diet, Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 42, 213–220.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    AOAC Official Method 905.2, Official Methods of Analysis of AOAC International, 16th ed., 1995.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Morrison, W.R., and Smith, L.M. (1964) Preparation of Fatty Acid Methyl Esters and Dimethylacetals from Lipids with Boron Fluoride-Methanol, J. Lipid Res. 5, 600–608.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    JMP, Version 5. (1989–2002) SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Guesnet, P., Antoine, J.M., Rochette de Lempdes, J.B., Galent, A., and Durand, G. (1993) Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Composition of Human Milk in France Changes During the Course of Lactation and Regional Differences, Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 47, 700–710.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Chulei, R., Xiaofang, L., Hongsheng, M., Xiulan, M., Guizheng, L., Gianhong, D., DeFrancesco, C.A., and Connor, W.E. (1995) Milk Composition in Women from Five Different Regions of China: The Great Diversity of Milk Fatty Acids, J. Nutr. 125, 2993–2998.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Villalpando, S., Butte, N.F., Flores-Huerta, S., and Thotathuchery, M. (1998) Quantitative Analysis of Human Milk Produced by Women Consuming a Maize-Predominant Diet Typical of Rural Mexico, Ann. Nutr. Metab. 42, 23–32PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Valenzuela, A., and Uauy, R. (1999) Consumption Pattern of Dietary Fats in Chile; n−6 and n−3 Fatty Acids, Int. J. Food Sci. Nutr. 50, 127–133.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Hachey, D.L., Thomas, M.R., Emken, E.A., Garza, C., Brown-Booth, L., Adlof, R.O., and Klein, P.D. (1987) Human Lactation: Maternal Transfer of Dietary Triglycerides Labeled with Stable Isotopes, J. Lipid Res. 28, 1185–1192.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Demmelmair, H., Baumheuer, M., Koletzko, B., Dokoupil, K., and Kratl, G. (1998) Metabolism of U13C-Labeled Linoleic Acid in Lactating Women, J. Lipid Res. 39, 1389–1396.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Nagata, C., Takatsuka, N., and Shimizu, H. (2002), Soy and Fish Oil Intake and Mortality in a Japanese Community, Am. J. Epidemiol. 156, 824–831.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Simmer, K., and Patole, S. (2004) Longchain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation in Preterm Infants. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000375. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000375.pub2.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Simmer, K. (2001) Longchain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation in Infants Born at Term. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD000376. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000376.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Uauy, R., Hoffman, D.R., Mena, P., Llanos, A., and Birch E.E. (2003) Term Infant Studies of DHA and ARA Supplementation on Neurodevelopment: Results of Randomized Controlled Trials, J. Pediatr. 143, S17-S25.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Insull, W., Hirsch, J., James, T., and Ahrens, E.H. (1958) The Fatty Acids of Human Milk. II. Alterations Produced by Manipulation of Caloric Balance and Exchange of Dietary Fats, J. Clin. Invest. 38, 443–450.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Koletzko, B., Thiel, I., and Abiodun, P.O. (1991) Fatty Acid Composition of Mature Human Milk in Nigeria. Z. Ernahrungswiss 30, 289–297.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Muskiet, F.A.J., Hutter, N.H., Martini, I.A., Jonxis, J.H.P., Offringa, P.J., and Boersma, E.R. (1987) Comparison of the Fatty Acid Composition of Human Milk from Mothers in Tanzania, Curacao, and Surinam, Human Nutr.: Clin. Nutr. 41C, 149–159.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Dupont, J., White, P.J., Johnston, K.M., Heggtveit, H.A., McDonald, B.E., Grundy, S.M., and Bonanome, A. (1989) Food Safety and Health Effects of Canola Oil, J. Am. College Nutr. 8, 360–375.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Laryea, M.D., Jiang, F., Xu, G.L., and Lombeck, I. (1992) Fatty Acid Composition of Blood Lipids in Chinese Children Consuming High Erucic Acid Rapeseed Oil, Ann. Nutr. Metab. 36, 273–278.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    de la Presa-Owens, S., Lopez-Sabater, M.C., and Rivero-Urgell, M. (1996) Fatty Acid Composition of Human Milk in Spain, J. Ped. Gastroenterol. Nutr. 22, 180–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Jensen, R.G. The Lipids of Human Milk. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, 1989, pp. 43–59.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Lammi-Keefe, C.J., Ferris, A.M., and Jenen, R.G. (1990) Changes in Human Milk at 0600, 1000, 1400, 1800, and 2200 h, J. Ped. Gastroenterol. Nutr. 11, 83–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    U.S. Infant Formula Act of 1980 and the 1986 Amendments, contained in 21 CFR Parts 1 to 199.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Commission Directive 91/321/EEC of 14 May 1991 on Infant Formulae and Follow-on Formulae Official Journal L 175, 04/07/1991 P. 0035-0049.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Smit, E.C., Martini, I.A., Kemperman, R.F., Schaafsma, A., Maskiet, F.A., Boersma, E.R. (2003) Fatty Acids in Formulae for Term Infants: Compliance of Present Recommendations with the Actual Human Milk Fatty Acid Composition of Geographically Different Populations, Acta Paediatr. 92, 790–796.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Koletzko, B., Agostoni, C., Carlson, S.E., Clandinin, T., Hornstra, G., Neuringer, M., Uauy, R., Yamashiro, Y., and Willatts, P. (2001) Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LC-PUFA) and Perinatal Development, Acta Paediatr. 90, 480–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© AOCS Press 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Nutrition ResearchWyeth NutritionCollegeville

Personalised recommendations