Milk fat globule membranes in infant formula could boost IQ and immunity

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The addition of milk fat globule membranes to infant formula is linked to a child’s brain development, improved nutrient absorption and strengthening of the immune system, a review concludes.

Researchers from the University of Munich and Umeå University in Sweden point to this compound, extracted from cow´s milk, as rich in the very nutrients required to assist in a child’s development.

The review is all the more urgent with recent technological innovations now able to extract the fragile compound that is lost during the manufacturing process of formula milk.

“The availability of some corresponding components from bovine milk or biotechnological production offers the possibility to include these components into formulas and to further close the gap between formula-feeding and breast-feeding,” the study’s authors comment.

Current infant formulas use bovine-milk derived protein and carbohydrate components. However, the main sources of fat are usually plant oils including plant derived emulsifiers. Thus, the components of MFGM with their bioactivities are not available to formula-fed infants.

Gold standard breast milk

The review, led by Dr Hans Demmelmair, head of laboratory at the Department of Metabolism and Nutrition at the Hauner Childrens Hospital, outlines a series of studies that look into the effects of adding MFGM, a tri-layer structure rich in bioactive components, to infant diets.

Its primary components—phospolipids, gangliosides and proteins— and their introduction to milk formula means the gap attaining the gold standard of human breast milk becomes ever closer.

European studies include one that enrolled 2.5–6-year-old preschool children, given a daily milk-based supplement with MFGM phospholipids.

The team found it reduced the number of days with fever during the four-month intervention period significantly compared to a corresponding supplement without MFGM components.

Other studies referenced include a Swedish study in which term infants were randomized before the age of two months to a formula supplemented with a protein-rich MFGM preparation (4% of total protein) or a standard formula.

The formulas were fed until the age of 6 months and the infants were followed until the age of 12 months together with a breast-fed reference group.

At 12 months of age, follow-up data could be collected from 73 infants of the MFGM group, from 68 infants in the standard formula group and from 72 breast-fed infants.

“Some of the observed effects seem related to difference in energy density and macronutrient composition between the study formulas, but some important observations are most likely related to the bioactivity of MFGM components,” the team noted.  

The study also observed that during the period of study formula feeding, the MFGM supplemented group had a significantly lower incidence of acute otitis media than the standard formula group (1% vs. 9%), and lower incidence (25% vs. 43%) of antipyretic use.

Concluding comments

In conclusion the review team highlighted that the bioactivities of human milk components in the infant intestine were not provided by current formula milk components.

This difference, they said, could partly explain the advantage of breast-feeding in respect to short term effects on infant health such as incidence of infectious diseases, and long term outcomes, such as the cognitive performance compared to formula-feeding.

“It is of importance to note that at least some of the beneficial effects of MFGM could be due to synergies between these compounds or additional human milk components, and thus may not manifest after addition of isolated components to infant formulas,” the review commented.

The team called for the introduction of adequately powered, well designed randomized, controlled trials to help define optimized ingredient mixtures as well as provide further evidence for the safety of MFGM.

Source: Nutrients
Published online ahead of print: doi:10.3390/nu9080817
“Benefits of Lactoferrin, Osteopontin and Milk Fat Globule Membranes for Infants.”
Authors: Hans Demmelmair Orcid, Christine Prell, Niklas Timby and Bo Lönnerdal

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