Discovering the vital role lipids play in healthy growth and development

At Danone Global Research & Innovation, we are at the forefront of human milk research, continuously advancing our understanding of its intricate composition. Aligned with the World Health Organization’s view on the importance of breastfeeding for infant health, we advocate for exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life, followed by sustained breastfeeding up to two years and beyond in combination with the safe introduction of appropriate complementary foods. Drawing on our extensive expertise, we are uniquely positioned to develop innovative early life nutritional solutions aimed at providing mothers with breastfeeding guidance and support.

Our journey to uncover the composition of human milk began over fifty years ago. Since then, we’ve been learning about the complex interplay between its macronutrients, such as proteins, lipids, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), and lactose.1Koletzko, B. Ann. Nutr. Metab. Published on 2016; 6(2):27-40

For the past four decades, we have focused specifically on exploring the composition and functionality of lipids. Through this extensive research, we’ve unveiled their key role in shaping the elaborate three-dimensional architecture of milk fat globules (MFGs), as well as the importance of long-chain-poly-unsaturated-fatty-acids (LCPUFAs). These breakthroughs have enriched our understanding of how lipids benefit healthy growth and development, particularly in fostering brain development during early stages of life.

We know that lipids constitute the second largest group of nutrients in human milk, providing 40-60% of an infant’s total energy intake. Besides triglycerides, which comprise approximately 98% of the lipid composition, human milk consists of polar lipids like phospholipids and glycolipids. Lipids also contain fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as essential fatty acids such as polyunsaturated fatty acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA).

We understand that the lipid composition in human milk is influenced by several factors, including maternal diet, infections, and lactation stage. For example, eating sea fish, rich in LCPUFAs, has been linked to elevated levels of DHA concentrations in breast milk. We are also aware that lipid composition and concentration undergo changes over the course of lactation, throughout the day and even during a single feeding session, providing specifically tailored nutrition to the infant.

Lipid droplet size and structure is key for optimal and healthy infant growth

Evidence shows that, alongside providing nutrients to support development during early life, breastfeeding has a protective effect on childhood overweight2Infant Milk Formula with Large, Milk Phospholipid-coated Lipid Droplets Enriched in Dairy Lipids Affects Body Mass Index Trajectories and Blood Pressure at School Age: Follow-up of a Randomized … Continue reading compared with infant formula. When exclusive breastfeeding isn’t feasible, it is critical that a formula mimics human milk as closely as possible. Advancements in our knowledge of the varying lipids composition and concentration have revealed another important factor: the notable difference in the size and structure of human MFGs versus lipid droplets found in conventional formulas.

We are aware that lipids are secreted in human milk as large MFGs, surrounded by a complex triple-layer milk fat globule membrane (MFGM). These MFGs range from 1-10 micrometers, with an average diameter of 4 micrometers.3Gallier, S. Colloids Surf. B. Published on 2015; 136: 329-339. Additionally, there are various functional components embedded within the MFGM, such as proteins,4Cao X et al.. Food Funct. Published on 2018 ;9 (2): 1163- 7 phospholipids, sphingolipids, glycolipids and cholesterol, all crucial for brain and neurocognitive development, as well as overall infant growth. Furthermore, emerging evidence highlights the significant impact of lipids on body mass index (BMI) regulation and their potential protective effects against obesity, inflammation and non-communicable diseases in later life.5 National Library of Medicine. Our ongoing research in this domain is at the forefront, yielding promising results for preventative health strategies.

Advancing Lipid Innovation: supporting growth patterns similar to breastfed infants

We are aware that lipid droplet size in infant nutrition matters. With this in mind, our latest innovation brings the size, structure and composition of formula lipid droplets closer to those naturally occurring in human milk. This innovation is designed to support infant growth and cognitive health benefits, while mimicking the look and feel of human milk.

Standard formula contains vegetable oils as a main source of lipids. However, because of the high-pressure used during the traditional manufacturing process, these lipid droplets are generally about ten times smaller than those found in human milk. They also lack the complex membrane surrounding natural lipid droplets.

Through our patented manufacturing process, we have developed a unique formula containing droplets with an average mode diameter ranging from 3 to 5 micrometers. These droplets incorporate MFGM components to form a coating resembling the outer layer of the human MFGM. Clinically validated, this nutritional solution is the closest match to human milk lipids and has been shown to support growth patterns similar to those of breastfed infants well into childhood.

But our researchers don’t stop here. They are committed to further exploring the complexities of lipids, understanding their role in various biological mechanisms, and identifying additional future uses for specialized nutrition aimed at optimizing lifelong health.

View References

View References
1 Koletzko, B. Ann. Nutr. Metab. Published on 2016; 6(2):27-40
2 Infant Milk Formula with Large, Milk Phospholipid-coated Lipid Droplets Enriched in Dairy Lipids Affects Body Mass Index Trajectories and Blood Pressure at School Age: Follow-up of a Randomized Controlled Trial. Science Direct.
3 Gallier, S. Colloids Surf. B. Published on 2015; 136: 329-339.
4 Cao X et al.. Food Funct. Published on 2018 ;9 (2): 1163- 7
5 National Library of Medicine.