Anti-inflammatory Characteristics of Human Milk: How, Where, Why

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2001;501:207-22. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-1371-1_27.


When first proposed, the hypothesis that human milk was anti-inflammatory was supported by 2 observations: poor function of milk leukocytes and the presence in milk of components that could modify inflammatory processes. This hypothesis is now supported by studies documenting anti-inflammatory effects in animal models and suppression of humoral and cellular components of inflammation in vitro. To date, two mechanisms have been demonstrated: alteration of leukocyte function and modification of cytokine biology. It is not clear whether these mechanisms are only topical effects in the digestive tract, or whether absorption of milk components results in systemic effects. While inflammation benefits the host as a defense mechanism and precursor to immune responses, it also contributes to the clinical manifestations of illness and is an important early component of wound-healing responses that result in scar. The biological effects of milk's anti-inflammatory character may be to minimize clinical symptomatology without losing immunoresponsiveness for the breast-fed infant, and to minimize scar formation during healing responses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cytokines / analysis
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Inflammation / prevention & control*
  • Leukocytes / physiology
  • Macrophages / physiology
  • Milk, Human* / chemistry
  • Milk, Human* / cytology
  • Milk, Human* / immunology
  • Neutrophils / physiology


  • Cytokines