Temporal evolution of fatty acid content in human milk of lactating mothers from the Philippines

Published:January 25, 2023DOI:


      • Filipino human milk had high saturated fatty acid content.
      • Linoleic and α-linoleic acid levels lower compared to other populations.
      • Monounsaturated fatty acid levels lower than in European mothers.
      • Human milk DHA levels lower than previous reports from the Philippines.


      Fatty acids (FA) play a key role in infant growth and development. The aim of this study was to study the temporal evolution of FA from 3 or 4 weeks to 4 months postpartum in human milk (HM) from Filipino mothers. Mid-morning HM samples (n = 41) were collected after full expression from a single breast and FA were assessed using gas-liquid chromatography coupled to flame ionization detector. The total FA content remained relatively constant over the study period. The most abundant FA in HM were oleic acid (OA), palmitic acid (PA) and linoleic acid (LA), a trend similarly reported in HM from European and Chinese mothers. The former two were unchanged over the course of lactation while there was a slight increase in LA content over time. Similarly, the saturated fatty acid (SFA) and monounsaturated FA (MUFA) contents did not vary over the first four months of lactation. The SFA content was much higher than that reported in HM from Europe and China, mainly driven by PA, lauric and myristic acids. The MUFA content on the other hand, while comparable to that reported in HM from Chinese populations was lower than that reported in Europe. There was a small increase in the polyunsaturated FA (PUFA) content over the study duration. The levels of essential FA, linoleic acid (LA) and α-linolenic acid (ALA) were found to be much lower than that reported in other populations. The concentrations of arachidonic acid (AA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) remained stable over the study duration. AA and DHA in HM from Filipino mothers were comparable to global averages, however in case of the latter the concentration was found to be lower than in previous reports. DHA is of great clinical significance as it plays a key role in infant growth and development. In our study, we observed a wide inter- and intra-individual variability in the levels of DHA in HM, presumably reflecting diverse intakes of DHA rich foods and bioconversion in vivo. Personalized recommendations may help achieve recommended levels of DHA amongst population with levels below global averages. This may help achieve HM sufficiency and therefore be linked to clinical benefits for the mother and the baby.


      This study details the temporal evolution of human milk (HM) fatty acids (FA) in Filipino mothers up to four months postpartum. The total FA content remained relatively constant over the study period. The most abundant FA were oleic, palmitic and linoleic acids. HM from Filipino mothers had relatively higher saturated FA content driven by palmitic, lauric and myristic acids, while the levels of essential FA, linoleic and α-linoleic acids were lower compared to other populations. Similarly, the concentration of monounsaturated FA were also lower than that reported in HM from European mothers. Arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) concentrations were comparable to global averages however the HM DHA levels were seen to have decreased when compared to previous reports from the Philippines. Additionally, a wide variability was seen in HM DHA levels suggesting a need for strategies such as personalized recommendations in order to ensure HM DHA sufficiency.



      Arachidonic acid (AA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Fatty acids (FA), Human milk (HM), Linoleic acid (LA), Long chain PUFA (LCPUFA), Mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), Oleic acid (OA), Palmitic acid (PA), Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), Saturated fatty acids (SFA), α-linolenic acid (ALA)
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