Omega-3 plus probiotics may boost health profile of breast milk

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Breast milk Nutrition Fatty acid

Supplementing breast feeding mothers with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and select probiotics may enhance the fat content of the milk, and boost the immune benefits of the breast milk, suggests a new study from Finland.

According to findings published in the European Journal of Nutrition​, the combination of canola (rapeseed) oil-based food products and Lactobacillus rhamnosus​ GG and Bifidobacterium lactis​ Bb12 led to increases in the ALA and total omega-3 content of the breast milk, as well as higher levels of immune system modulating compounds.

“In the present study, the proportion of [another omega-3 called] gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in breast milk could be promoted by probiotics in conjunction with modulation of dietary fat intake, this suggesting interaction between probiotics and fatty acids,”​ wrote researchers from the University of Turku.

“It has previously been observed that probiotics-containing dairy product improved the bioavailability of GLA. Furthermore, GLA has been associated with atopic disease, as atopic infants have been shown to have less GLA in serum phospholipids than healthy infants.”


Breastfeeding is widely recognized as the best start an infant can get, and the results of the new study indicated the value of dietary counseling to modify a nursing mother’s diet.

The researchers added that “provision of single fatty acid supplements is not a feasible public health approach in improving the maternal diet.

“Food products with beneficial probiotics might bring further benefits to vulnerable groups at risk of allergic disease.”

Study details

The Finnish researchers recruited 125 breastfeeding mothers to participate in their study. Women were randomly assigned to receive the canola oil-enriched diet only (produced by Raisio), the canola diet plus probiotics (B. lactis​ from Chr. Hansen and L. rhamnosus​ GG from Valio Ltd), or a control diet and no probiotics.

Breastmilk samples taken at birth and one month later revealed that both groups consuming the canola-enriched diet displayed increases in the proportion of ALA and total omega-3s compared to the control group.

“The conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA has been found to be higher in women than in men, and it has been suggested that it is further increased during pregnancy. It has been shown that supplemental ALA from flaxseed oil may raise EPA and DPA but not DHA in breast milk,”​ said the researchers.

In addition, in the probiotic group, the GLA content was higher than the canola-only group.

In terms of the immune factors in the breast milk, increases in a number of compounds were observed in both dietary intervention groups, including TNF-alpha, IL-10, IL-4 and IL-2.

“Future studies should undertake an evaluation of interactions amongst nutrients in the maternal diet and breast milk and further, their long-term health effects on the infant,”​ concluded the Finnish researchers.

Source: European Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1007/s00394-011-0209-0
"Probiotics and dietary counselling targeting maternal dietary fat intake modifies breast milk fatty acids and cytokines"
Authors: U. Hoppu, E. Isolauri, P. Laakso, J. Matomaki, K. Laitinen

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