Evolutionary modifications of human milk composition: evidence from long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid composition of anthropoid milks.
Brain growth in mammals is associated with increased accretion of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) in brain phospholipids. The period of maximum accumulation is during the brain growth spurt. Humans have a perinatal brain growth spurt, selectively accumulating docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and other LCPUFA from the third trimester through the second year of life. The emphasis on rapid postnatal brain growth and LCPUFA transfer during lactation has led to the suggestion that human milk LCPUFA composition may be unique. Our study tests this hypothesis by determining fatty acid composition for 11 species of captive anthropoids (n=53; Callithrix jacchus, Cebus apella, Gorilla gorilla, Hylobates lar, Leontopithecus rosalia, Macaca mulatta, Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus, Pongo pygmaeus, Saimiri boliviensis, and Symphalangus syndactylus). Results are compared to previously published data on five species of wild anthropoids (n=28; Alouatta paliatta, Callithrix jacchus, Gorilla beringei, Leontopithecus rosalia, and Macaca sinica) and human milk fatty acid profiles. Milk LCPUFA profiles of captive anthropoids (consuming diets with a preformed source of DHA) are similar to milk from women on a Western diet, and those of wild anthropoids are similar to milk from vegan women. Collectively, the range of DHA percent composition values from nonhuman anthropoid milks (0.03-1.1) is nearly identical to that from a cross-cultural analysis of human milk (0.06-1.4). Humans do not appear to be unique in their ability to secrete LCPUFA in milk but may be unique in their access to dietary LCPUFA.