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Levels of carotenoids in breast milk may vary by country and diet

Posted:  Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A recent research by American researchers reveals how breast milk content can vary according to regional dietary habits. Researchers from Purdue University found that levels of the health- promoting vitamin A precursor carotenoids in breast milk differed according to country and dietary habits. The results found US to be lagging behind when compared to Mexico and China.

The carotenoid content in breast milk is determined by the maternal consumption of fruits and vegetables such as squash, citrus, sweet potatoes and dark, leafy greens. The study analysed the carotenoid and fatty acid composition of breast milk donated by three groups of 20 women from Shanghai, Mexico City and Cincinnati. The analysis was conducted at four time points, namely at 2, 4, 13 and 26 weeks after giving birth. The results of the study were published in PLOS ONE journal.

The researchers gathered the following observations from the analysis.

At 2 weeks after birth:

- Levels of carotenoids in American women’s breast milk were 40% lower than that recorded by Chinese women and 25% lower than that present in Mexican women.

- Levels of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, was 25% higher in the breast milk of women from China and Mexico than their US counterparts

Throughout the lactation stage:

- The lutein content in the breast milk of Chinese women was higher in all lactation stages except at 13 weeks. Lutein, a carotenoid, is important for an infant’s eye and brain health.

- Breast milk from US mothers consistently had the highest levels of lycopene compared to their Chinese counterparts. Lycopene, derived from tomatoes, may play a role in immunity and protection against inflammatory diseases.

The researchers also evaluated the plasma carotenoid content in breastfeeding mothers and infants from the US. They found that concentrations of carotenoids in breast milk strongly correlated with levels in maternal and infant plasma, except for lycopene.

The study findings indicate that the consumption of fruits and vegetables was poor among lactating women. In conclusion, the researchers said, “Evidence is increasing that carotenoids are important for both mothers and infants. Nursing women should eat fruits and vegetables as recommended in dietary guidelines. As long as your baby is happy with it, don't exclude bright orange or yellow produce and leafy vegetables from your diet.”

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