Last Updated on April 4, 2016 at 4:39 PM
Health In Focus
  • Beta-palmitic acid is a natural fatty acid found in human milk and is responsible for several of its physiological positive effects.
  • Increasing the content of beta-palmitic acid in formula milk enhances infant nutrition and causes comparable benefits.
  • It influences fatty acid metabolism and improves mineral balance.
  • Beta-palmitic acid also improves sleep pattern and reduces crying duration in the formula-fed infant.
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.

Beta-palmitic 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.
Beta-palmitate - A Natural Component of Human Milk in Supplemental Milk Formulas

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.

Benefits 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.

Increased 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 calcium soaps.

Increased calcium absorption, in turn, influences the strength and density of bone matrix.

Softer Stool Consistency

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.

Improved Sleep 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.

Immunomodulatory Effects

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.

Anti-inflammatory Properties

Milk formulas 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 response.

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.

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Source: Medindia

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