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J Pediatr. 1992 Apr;120(4 Pt 2):S62-70.

The fatty acid composition of human milk in Europe and Africa.

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Kinderklinik, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany.


The fatty acid composition of human milk is often used as a model for artificial feeding, but it may vary with maternal diet. We reviewed 14 studies from 9 European countries and 10 studies from 7 African countries on fatty acids in mature human milk. Considering the marked differences in methods and dietary composition in different parts of Europe and Africa, average milk fatty acid composition data are surprisingly consistent. The diet of lactating women apparently influences, to a certain extent, the milk content of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids and linoleic acid (18:2n-6). However, different self-selected diets in different geographic locations seem to have little effect on the milk content of 20 and 22 carbon long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP), with the exception of relatively high n-3 fatty acids in the milk of African women consuming a large proportion of dietary fat from sea fish. Even then, docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3), and not eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3), remains the predominant n-3 LCP in milk. Rural African women consuming little animal fat tend to have high milk contents of n-6 LCP. Thus the milk secretion of n-6 LCP does not appear to depend on maternal dietary intake of preformed LCP. Metabolic processes appear to be important in regulating human milk LCP.

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