Anti-inflammatory systems in human milk

Adv Exp Med Biol. 1990;262:69-76. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4613-0553-8_6.


Human milk is characterized not only by a complex host defense system that prevents the colonization and proliferation of common microbial pathogens that may pervade the alimentary tract and respiratory tract of the infant but also by a paucity of inflammatory agents and an array of anti-phlogistic factors. Clinical observations support the notion that the protection provided by human milk involves not only antimicrobial factors, but also anti-inflammatory agents. The major anti-inflammatory agents include enzymes that degrade mediators of inflammation, anti-proteases, lysozyme, lactoferrin, secretory IgA and a number of antioxidants including cysteine, ascorbate, alpha-tocopherol, and beta-carotene. It is pertinent that most of these factors are either absent or poorly represented in cow's milk or other artificial feedings that substitute for breast feeding and that the attainment of adult serum levels of some of these antioxidants in early infancy is dependent upon breast feeding. It may be that the provision of these antioxidants may help to protect the recipient's developing immunologic system which is quite susceptible to oxidant damage. The absence of breast feeding will thus deprive the infant of valuable protection against common enteric-respiratory disorders and their inflammatory consequences. It should be pointed out that the protective systems in human milk including the anti-inflammatory components may not be completely delineated, and that little is known of the in vivo fate of the factors and precisely how they protect the recipient. Those questions should form the basis of important research in the next decades.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents*
  • Antioxidants
  • Humans
  • Milk, Human / physiology*
  • Mucous Membrane / physiology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antioxidants