acid is a natural fatty acid found in human milk and is responsible for
several of its physiological positive effects.
the content of beta-palmitic acid in formula milk enhances infant
nutrition and causes comparable benefits.
influences fatty acid metabolism and improves mineral balance.
acid also improves sleep pattern and reduces crying duration in the
Nothing can replace the benefits of breastfeeding
, but in certain cases where breastfeeding is not possible due to some reason, formula milk has to be used. Therefore, attempts are being made to fabricate the composition of milk formula as similar as possible to human milk. It has been observed that many of the physiological benefits of breast milk are attributable to beta-palmitic
acid or beta-palmitate, a natural fatty acid found in human milk. Various studies have proven that its incorporation into formula milk may impart comparable benefits.
Acid in Human Milk
Babies have a high need for energy which is provided by maternal milk rich in fat. Milk fat
is mostly composed of triglycerides (composed of glycerol and three fatty acids). Palmitic acid is the major fatty acid found in human milk and 60% of the palmitic acid is
beta-palmitate (bound to the sn-2 or beta position of glycerol). In non-breastfed infants, supplemental milk formulas
are used, most of which contain plant fats. Plant fats and even cow's milk have very low beta-palmitic acid content as most of the palmitic acid in them are
bound to sn-1 or sn-3 positions.
The sn-2 position has
huge relevance in the regulation of digestion in an infant during the nursing
period. It leads to a better absorption of fats in breastfed infants while
non-breastfed infants who are administered milk formulas containing palmitic
acid in sn-1 or sn-3 position show poor absorption. It also influences the
development of bone matrix, intestinal flora, a softer stool consistency and
better sleep patterns.
of Incorporating Beta-palmitic Acid in Formula Milk
Studies have shown
that increasing the content of beta-palmitate in formula milk may help mimic
the benefits of maternal milk in non-breastfed infants.
‘Milk formula containing a high content of beta-palmitate may act as an appropriate substitute for maternal milk in non-breastfed infants.’
Calcium Absorption Leads to Improved Bone Development
Pancreatic lipase acts
on fatty acids and separates the ones containing palmitic acid at sn-1 and sn-3
positions. These fatty acids form non-soluble calcium soaps and are excreted in
feces. The particular position of palmitic acid at the sn-2 position in
beta-palmitate is immune to the enzyme and therefore, is absorbed. This results
in increased calcium absorption by decreasing the amount of calcium excreted as
Increased calcium absorption
, in turn, influences the strength and density of bone matrix.
Breastfed infants tend
to have soft stools while formula fed infants exhibit a tendency to constipation. It has been observed that in infants fed with a milk formula containing a higher amount of beta-palmitate, the stools are softer. This is due to the fact that beta-palmitate does not form insoluble soaps with calcium, unlike other forms of palmitic acid (sn-1 or sn-3), which leads to softer stools and avoid constipation in infants
Patterns and Reduced Crying
Colic (episodes of crying in an otherwise healthy infant) is a very common problem, especially in formula-fed infants and is often a cause of worry for new parents. Non-breastfed infants who consume beta-palmitate rich milk formula have been shown to exhibit reduced crying. It may be attributed to two reasons:
- Beta-palmitate improves stool consistency and thus relieves any gastrointestinal discomfort.
- It beneficially affects the intestinal flora (gut bacteria) of an infant and prevents colic.
A calm child naturally sleeps more. In addition to it, beta-palmitate also has a positive influence on the circadian rhythm
of an infant, leading to increased duration of sleep in infants
The intestine (gut) is an important determinant of the
immune response of a person. An infant's intestine is sterile, that is, it is
uninhabited by any micro-organism. Maternal milk leads to an ideal development
and colonization of the gut which acts not only as an organ of digestion but
also an organ for guarding the body against pathogens (disease-causing agents)
and allergens (allergy causing agents). A milk formula rich in beta-palmitate
acts similarly and leads to an increase in Lactobacillus bacteria (gut-friendly
bacteria) and helps in the proper maturation of the intestines.
containing plant oils with a high amount of palmitic acid esterified to sn-1
and the sn-3 position have shown a tendency to cause intestinal inflammation and
mucosal erosion in infants. Beta-palmitate rich milk formulas, on the other
hand, exhibit anti -inflammatory properties by inducing an immunosuppressive
Though the benefits of
breastfeeding are innumerable and irreplaceable, the understanding of the
unique composition of human milk and the beneficial effects of beta-palmitate
are aiding the formulation of comparable substitutes for infants who cannot be
breastfed in the nursing period owing to any reason, without having to
compromise on their well-being.