Infants rely on their innate immune systems to protect them from infection. Human milk (HM) contains fatty acids (FAs) and monoacylglycerols that are known to exhibit antiviral and antibacterial properties in vitro. The specific fat content of HM may potentially affect the efficacy of this antimicrobial activity. This preliminary study investigates whether the proportions of FA in HM change in response to infections, leading to cold-like symptoms in the mother or infant. Milk samples were obtained from mothers (n = 26) when they and their infants were healthy, and when mother, infant, or both suffered cold-like symptoms. The milk was hydrolysed and FA proportions were measured using gas chromatography. Fifteen FAs were recorded, of which eight were detected in sufficient quantities for statistical analysis. The proportions of capric (C10:0) and lauric acids (C12:0) in HM were significantly lower, and palmitic acid (C16:0) was higher when mothers and infants were ill compared to healthy samples. Palmitoleic (C16:1, n-7) and stearic acid (C18:0) proportions were higher in HM when the infant was unwell, but were not related to maternal health. Whilst the differences detected were small (less than 0.5%), the effects may be additive and potentially have a protective function. The value of further studies is certainly indicated.


human milk, breastfeeding, fatty acids

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