British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Nutritional Immunology

Immune factors and fatty acid composition in human milk from river/lake, coastal and inland regions of China  

Heidi J. Urwina1, Jian Zhanga2a3a4, Yixiong Gaoa2, Chunrong Wanga2, Lixiang Lia2, Pengkun Songa2, Qingqing Mana2, Liping Menga2, Livar Frøylanda3, Elizabeth A. Milesa5, Philip C. Caldera5 and Parveen Yaqooba1 c1

a1 Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition, Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Whiteknights, PO Box 226, The University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AP, UK

a2 Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing 100050, People's Republic of China

a3 National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (NIFES), N-5817 Bergen, Norway

a4 Department of Biomedicine, University of Bergen, N-5009 Bergen, Norway

a5 The Human Development and Health Academic Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK


Breast milk fatty acid composition may be affected by the maternal diet during gestation and lactation. The influence of dietary and breast milk fatty acids on breast milk immune factors is poorly defined. We determined the fatty acid composition and immune factor concentrations of breast milk from women residing in river/lake, coastal and inland regions of China, which differ in their consumption of lean fish and oily fish. Breast milk samples were collected on days 3–5 (colostrum), 14 and 28 post-partum (PP) and analysed for soluble CD14 (sCD14), transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1, TGF-β2, secretory IgA (sIgA) and fatty acids. The fatty acid composition of breast milk differed between the regions and with time PP. The concentrations of all four immune factors in breast milk decreased over time, with sCD14, sIgA and TGF-β1 being highest in the colostrum in the river and lake region. Breast milk DHA and arachidonic acid (AA) were positively associated, and γ-linolenic acid and EPA negatively associated, with the concentrations of each of the four immune factors. In conclusion, breast milk fatty acids and immune factors differ between the regions in China characterised by different patterns of fish consumption and change during the course of lactation. A higher breast milk DHA and AA concentration is associated with higher concentrations of immune factors in breast milk, suggesting a role for these fatty acids in promoting gastrointestinal and immune maturation of the infant.

(Received April 16 2012)

(Revised July 19 2012)

(Accepted August 06 2012)

(Online publication November 13 2012)

Key Words:

  • Breast milk;
  • DHA;
  • Transforming growth factor β;
  • Secretory IgA;
  • Soluble CD14


c1 Corresponding author: Professor P. Yaqoob, email


  The fatty acid composition of the mature milk studied here has been reported previously in Chinese in Gao Y, Zhang J, Wang C, et al. (2011) Fatty acid composition of mature human milk in three regions of China. Wei Sheng Yan Jiu 40, 731–734.

  Abbreviations: AA, arachidonic acid; ALA, α-linolenic acid; DPA, docosapentaenoic acid; LA, linoleic acid; LC-PUFA, long-chain PUFA; PP, post-partum; sCD14, soluble CD14; TGF, transforming growth factor