Insulin in human milk and the use of hormones in infant formulas

Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2013:77:57-64. doi: 10.1159/000351384. Epub 2013 Aug 29.


Human milk contains a substantial number of hormones and growth factors. Studies in animal models show that some of these peptides (e.g. insulin, insulin-like growth factor 1, IGF-1, epidermal growth factors) have an effect on the small intestine after orogastric administration. Recently, two efforts were made to incorporate growth factors into infant formulas. One of these efforts included the incorporation of IGF-1, and the second is an ongoing effort to evaluate the safety and efficacy of incorporating insulin into infant formulas. The rational and current evidence for adding insulin to infant formulas (presence in human milk, effects of orally administrated insulin on gut maturation, intestinal permeability, systemic effects and preliminary encouraging results of supplementing insulin to a preterm infant formula) is detailed in this review. If the addition of insulin to preterm infant formulas indeed results in better growth and accelerated intestinal maturation, future studies will need to address the supplementation of insulin in term infants and assess the efficacy of such supplementation in enhancing gut maturation and prevention of later noncommunicable diseases such as allergy, autoimmune diseases and obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Supplements
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / growth & development*
  • Insulin / pharmacology*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / administration & dosage
  • Intestines / drug effects*
  • Intestines / growth & development
  • Milk, Human*


  • Insulin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I