Review Article| Volume 121, P40-51, June 2017

Importance of the regiospecific distribution of long-chain saturated fatty acids on gut comfort, fat and calcium absorption in infants


      • Gastrointestinal tolerance, fat and calcium absorption are different between formula and breastfed babies.
      • Evidence suggests palmitic acid and its distribution on triglycerides are important.
      • Myristic and stearic acids in sn-1, 3 position can contribute to these differences.
      • Reducing the amount of sn-1, 3 myristic, palmitic, stearic acids may improve outcomes.
      • This work published a set of quite unique results on the fatty acid structure.


      Gastrointestinal tolerance and fat and calcium (Ca) absorption are different between breast-fed (BF) and formula-fed (FF) infants. Certain components and/or structural particularities in human milk (HM), can contribute to favorable outcomes in BF infants. In HM, the long-chain saturated fatty acid (LCSFA) palmitic acid has a different stereospecific distribution (sn-2 position) compared to most infant formula (IF) (primarily sn-1, 3 positions), which may contribute to unfavorable outcomes. Evidence suggests palmitic acid is important in the formation of stool FA-mineral (or FA-Ca) soaps, associated with harder stools in FF infants. Partial replacement by structured palmitic acid-rich triacylglycerols (TAGs) promotes palmitic acid absorption. However, evidence for stool softening, improved fat absorption and reduced Ca excretion in stools is inconsistent. IFs with less palmitic acid can improve fat and Ca absorption, and stool consistency. The presence of other LCSFAs (myristic and stearic acids) in sn-1, 3 positions may also contribute to reduced absorption of fat and Ca, and stool hardness, in FF infants. Nevertheless, little attention has been given to modifying these other LCSFAs in IF. We review literature comparing the effect of HM and IF with different lipid compositions on stool patterns and/or fat and Ca absorption in healthy, term infants. Based on available data, we estimate a maximum level for sn-1, 3 LCSFAs of 13% of TAGs, under which fat and Ca absorption and stool consistency are improved. IF designed according to this threshold could efficiently improve nutrient absorption and stool patterns in healthy infants who cannot be breast-fed.


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