Protective function of proteins and lipids in human milk

Biol Neonate. 1998;74(2):163-76. doi: 10.1159/000014021.


Human milk provides the infant with protection against infectious diseases. This protection is conferred through several mechanisms: specific antibody targeted protection against pathogens in the infant's environment (through milk IgA, IgG, and IgM) and broad-spectrum, nonspecific protection provided through several distinct mechanisms. These are: bactericidal effects (lactoferrin), bacteriostatic action (lactoferrin, lysozyme), lysis of microorganisms (lysozyme), antiviral effects (lactoferrin, products of milk fat digestion), antiprotozoan activity (free fatty acids produced during gastric and intestinal digestion of milk fat), and ligand action (inhibition of Helicobacter pylori adhesion to gastric mucosa by kappa-casein). In addition to these protective functions of the proteins and lipids of human milk, several enzymes present in human milk might provide protection by generating components that are bactericidal (bile salt dependent lipase, peroxidase), prevent inflammatory reactions (platelet-activating factor acetylhydrolase), or protect the integrity of milk proteins (antiproteases).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents*
  • Caseins / metabolism
  • Enzymes / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lactoferrin / physiology
  • Lipids / physiology*
  • Milk Proteins*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Muramidase / physiology


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Caseins
  • Enzymes
  • Lipids
  • Milk Proteins
  • Muramidase
  • Lactoferrin