Human breast milk forms highly organised structures during digestion and this discovery could be used for the development of new food supplements and nutritional formulas which are more easily digested.
The study by researchers from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences was published in the journal Angewandte Chernie.
According to lead researcher Professor Ben Boyd, the nutritional value of human breast milk and other types of milk are well known, but little research has been done into detailed structure of milk during digestion and how the fats in milk interact with the digestive system.
“Human breast milk is key to the survival and development of humans, yet until now we had no idea of the rich structure formation when it is digested,” says Prof Boyd.
“By finding out what happens to milk during digestion it will allow us to better understand how the essential nutritional components for building brain tissue and other parts of the body are absorbed.
“Potentially we could use these findings to design more effective food and nutritional supplements.”
Prof Boyd says results indicate that in people lacking normal mechanisms to aid digestion, the structure of milk adapts to overcome this.
This finding may be particularly important for premature infants, whose digestive system is often not fully functional.
“We suspected that the fats in milk form structures to aid the digestive process but until now we’ve not been able to prove this,” he says.
“We need to do further work but this study suggests that if you’re lacking normal mechanisms to aid digestion, then there is a compensatory system present in human breast milk that adapts to allow those individuals to survive.”