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Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2016;86:97-107. Epub 2016 Jun 23.

Human Milk: Bioactive Proteins/Peptides and Functional Properties.


Breastfeeding has been associated with many benefits, both in the short and in the long term. Infants being breastfed generally have less illness and have better cognitive development at 1 year of age than formula-fed infants. Later in life, they have a lower risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Several components in breast milk may be responsible for these different outcomes, but bioactive proteins/peptides likely play a major role. Some proteins in breast milk are comparatively resistant towards digestion and may therefore exert their functions in the gastrointestinal tract in intact form or as larger fragments. Other milk proteins may be partially digested in the upper small intestine and the resulting peptides may exert functions in the lower small intestine. Lactoferrin, lysozyme and secretory IgA have been found intact in the stool of breastfed infants and are therefore examples of proteins that are resistant against proteolytic degradation in the gut. Together, these proteins serve protective roles against infection and support immune function in the immature infant. α-lactalbumin, β-casein, κ-casein and osteopontin are examples of proteins that are partially digested in the upper small intestine, and the resulting peptides influence functions in the gut. Such functions include stimulation of immune function, mineral and trace element absorption and defense against infection.


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