Milk Fat: Origin of Fatty Acids and Influence of Nutritional Factors Thereon

  • D. L. Palmquist


Ruminant milk fat is of unique composition among terrestrial mammals, due to its great diversity of component fatty acids. The diversity arises from the effects of ruminal biohydrogenation on dietary unsaturated fatty acids and the range of fatty acids synthesized de novo in the mammary gland.

Forty to sixty per cent of milk fatty acids are long-chain (predominantly C18) fatty acids derived from the diet, dependent on the amount of fat in the diet. Fatty acids from C4 to C14 are synthesized de novo in the mammary gland whereas C16 arises from both diet and de novo synthesis.

Milk fat is the most variable component of milk, both in concentration and composition. In dairy cattle, both the concentration and composition of milk fat are influenced by the diet. Concentration is reduced by feeding diets that contain large proportions of readily-fermentable carbohydrates (starch) and unsaturated fat. Conversely, the percentage of fat in milk can be increased by feeding rumen-inert fats. In ruminants, in contrast with non-ruminants, dietary fats have little effect on milk fat composition. Nevertheless, subtle changes in composition and manufacturing functionality can be effected by feeding different fats. Those fatty acids synthesized de novo, especially C12 to C16, and oleic acid (C18:1) show greatest variation when supplemental fats are fed.

Modern developments in the manufacture of rumen-protected and rumen-inert fats, together with increased understanding of ruminal and animal lipid metabolism, provide considerable flexibility in manipulation of the composition of milk fat for specific nutritional and manufacturing needs.

Future advances in the science of milk fat and nutrition will come from focusing on the unique biological properties of minor milk fatty acids arising from ruminal biohydrogenation and possibly some of de novo mammary origin.


Mammary Gland Conjugate Linoleic Acid Fatty Acid Synthesis Acyl Carrier Protein Milk Fatty Acid 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. L. Palmquist
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Animal Sciences, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development CenterThe Ohio State UniversityWoosterUSA

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