Sterols in human milk during lactation: bioaccessibility and estimated intakes†
Human milk (HM) is the exclusive food during the first 4–6 months of an infant's life. Breastfeeding has been related to significant health benefits for infants, and hence it is of interest to study the bioactive compounds present in HM, such as sterols (cholesterol being the most abundant). The aim of this study was to determine the contents of sterols (cholesterol, desmosterol, lathosterol, lanosterol, campesterol, stigmasterol and β-sitosterol) in 10 pools of colostrum, transitional milk, and 1, 3 and 6 month HM obtained from Spanish volunteers from two different geographical areas (coastal and central) and to estimate the intake and bioaccessibility (BA) of sterols in order to ascertain the fate of sterols after digestion. The results showed that the total sterol contents decreased to half the initial level during lactation (24–11 mg per 100 mL) and was significantly higher in samples from the coastal area. Total and animal sterol intakes were between 200 and 400 times higher than plant sterol intakes and were significantly higher in samples from the coastal area. However, no statistically significant differences were found in cholesterol and plant sterol intakes between areas. The BA of total sterols ranged from 45% to 69% and was higher in the first month, which coinciding with the highest fat content of milk. In conclusion, the sterol content varies depending on the lactation stage and the geographical area, and the BA of sterols can be positively affected by a higher lipid content. All these data may contribute to the development of infant formulas that are more similar to HM in terms of composition and behaviour after digestion, according to the lactation stage involved.