Human Milk and Infant Feeding

A number of studies from around the world indicate that human milk contains both LNA and LA and their long-chain n-6 and n-3 fatty acids, whereas cow's milk does not. The long-chain fatty acid composition of red blood cell membrane phospholipids may reflect the composition of phospholipids in the brain. Therefore, determination of red blood cell membrane phospholipids has been carried out by many investigators to determine the long-chain PUFA content in breast-fed and bottle-fed infants. As expected, the fatty acids 22:5n-3 and 22:6n-3 were higher in the erythrocytes from breast-fed infants than those from bottle-fed babies and the 20:3n-9 was lower in the erythrocytes of the breast-fed infants.

Following birth, the amount of red blood cell DHA in premature infants decreases; therefore the amount of DHA available to the premature infant assumes critical importance. Preterm infants have a limited ability to convert LNA to DHA (Figure 2); therefore, a number of studies have been carried out on the DHA status of the premature infant. Premature babies have decreased amounts of DHA, but human milk contains enough DHA to support normal growth of the premature baby. The amount of n-3 fatty acids in human milk varies with the mother's diet; in particular, DHA is lower in vegetarians than in omnivores. One can increase the amount of DHA in human milk by giving fish oil rich in DHA to the mother.

The need to supplement infant formula with n-3 fatty acids and, particularly, DHA for the premature is now recognized and many countries have licensed infant formula enriched with n-3 fatty acids. DHA is essential for normal visual function and visual

Table 8 Effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids on several genes encoding enzyme proteins involved in lipogenesis, glycolysis, and glucose transport

Function and gene

Linoleic acid

a-Linolenic acid

Arachidonic acid

Eicosapentaenoic acid

Docosahexaenoic acid

Hepatic cells

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