Kinetics of omega-3 fatty acid transfer to milk differs between fatty acids and stage of lactation in dairy cows

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2023 May:192:102573. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2023.102573. Epub 2023 Mar 30.


Fatty acids (FA) differ in their transfer efficiencies and metabolic partitioning and lactating cows provide a robust model to investigate kinetics of FA transport. The objective was to compare kinetics of n-3 polyunsaturated FA (PUFA) trafficking through plasma and into milk. In the first experiment, ten ruminally cannulated multiparous Holstein cows were used in a crossover design with 7 d periods. Cows were milked at 6 h intervals and abomasal treatments provided a single dose of 80.1 g of α-linolenic acid as free FA (ALA-FFA) or 45.5 g EPA and 32.9 g DHA (LCn3-FFA). Transfer of n-3 PUFA to milk was nearly 50% higher for ALA-FFA than LCn3-FFA (48.2 and 32.7% of the bolus) and fit a bi-exponential model. Rapid transport of n-3 PUFA, assumed to be directly through chylomicrons, was nearly twice as high in ALA-FFA than LCn3-FFA and the subsequent slow transport, assumed to be indirect transfer through tissue recycling, was over 2.5-fold higher in LCn3-FFA than in ALA-FFA. Plasma analysis revealed LCn3-FFA enriched phospholipids and cholesterol esters, which had a slow clearance. In the second experiment, 4 cows received a bolus of a mixture of ALA, EPA, and DHA prepartum while not lactating and around d 10, 55, and 225 of lactation. Transfer of ALA to milk did not differ between stages of lactation, but DHA was lower in early compared to mid and late lactation. In conclusion, dietary ALA is rapidly and efficiently transferred to milk in cows while EPA and DHA are rapidly incorporated into plasma or tissue fractions not available to the mammary gland. This demonstrates clear differences in trafficking and partitioning of n-3 PUFA that ultimately impact tissue and organelle enrichment with implications for effective doses.

Keywords: Animal models; Fatty acid metabolism; Lactation; Omega-3.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3* / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Lactation
  • Milk


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified