Nutritional and biochemical properties of human milk: II. Lipids, micronutrients, and bioactive factors

Clin Perinatol. 1999 Jun;26(2):335-59.


Human milk lipids contain preformed LCPUFA in considerable amounts, which serve as precursors for the formation of prostaglandins, prostacyclins, and other lipid mediators, as well as essential components in membrane-rich tissues (such as the brain and the retina), thus affecting functional outcomes. Besides a balanced nutrient composition and a number of conditionally essential nutrients, human milk provides different types and classes of bioactive factors, such as enzymes, hormones, and growth factors, many of which appear to have a role in supporting infantile growth and development. The bioactive agents include antimicrobial factors (e.g., secretory IgA, oligosaccharides, FA); anti-inflammatory agents; transporters (e.g., lactoferrin); and digestive enzymes (e.g., BSSL). Several nonpeptide hormones (thyroid hormones, cortisol, progesterone, pregnanediol, estrogens, and artificial contraceptive) and peptide hormones and growth factors (erythropoietin, hHG, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, epidermal growth factor insulin, insulin-like growth factor-I, nerve growth factor, transforming growth factor-alpha, gastrointestinal regulatory peptides and thyroid-parathyroid hormones) have been isolated and quantitated in human milk. Some of these components are also involved in the maturation of the gastrointestinal tract of the infant. In addition to the passive benefits provided by human milk, several data support the hypothesis that breastfeeding promotes the development of the infant's own immune system, which might confer long-term benefits for the newborn infant. The risk of IDDM, Crohn's disease, and atopic disease is lower in individuals who had been breastfed during infancy. Areas of major interest in human milk research include the study of human milk synthesis and the contributions of dietary composition and maternal metabolism to human milk composition, infantile utilization of human milk components, and the study of bioactive components, such as oligosaccharides, proteins and peptides, and lipids and their in vivo fate and biologic effects in the recipient infant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipids / analysis*
  • Micronutrients / analysis*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Milk, Human / immunology
  • Minerals / analysis
  • Vitamins / analysis


  • Lipids
  • Micronutrients
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins