Breast Milk & Monolaurin

Last Updated: February 22, 2019 | First Published: February 18, 2019
Reviewed by: Dr. Jennifer Meza, M.D.

Breastfeeding, Lauric Acid, and Monolaurin

Monolaurin Breastfeeding

Breast Milk & Monolaurin

Lauric Acid – the Foundation of Monolaurin

Monolaurin is made from Lauric Acid – either when combined with glycerol to form a product for food production or supplements, or when ingested in the body from a source like palm kernel or coconut oil.

Lauric acid occurs naturally in coconut and palm kernel oil (approximately 49% of coconut oil 48% of palm kernel oil), making these oils a great source for producing monolaurin. Lean all about the process in the Essential Guide to Monolaurin.

Human breast milk is on average 6.2% lauric acid, and breastfeeding provides infants their first introduction to monolaurin.

Beyond Nutrition – Immune benefits of Breast Milk and Lauric Acid

Breastfeeding provides infants with nutrients for growth and development as well as immune protection to compensate for the immature and inexperienced defense mechanisms at mucosal surfaces [10]. Breast milk not only provides excellent nutritional value, it also plays a very important role in protecting and supporting the immune function of infants though its healthy fat content [12].

Breast milk is a source of immunoglobulins which play an important role in protecting mucosal surfaces from infection. [13] Infants who are breastfed have been found to have:

  • Lower incidence of gastrointestinal infections compared to infants fed formula or cow’s milk [14]

  • Lower incidences of infection in low birthweight infants compared to infants fed formula [15]

  • Better protective factors which in the initial defense against infection [16]

Human Breast Milk Studies

There are numerous studies on Monolaurin and Lauric Acid as a derivative of coconut oil. However, the following studies explicitly explore the antibacterial and antimicrobial benefits of monolaurin from breast milk and potentially breastfeeding.

Gastroenteritis caused by Staphylococcus epidermidis and Escherichia coli

Human breast milk was tested against two formula feeds in a study involving low birthweight infants. The breast milk showed antiviral and antibacterial properties against enveloped viruses and killed both Staphylococcus epidermidis and Escherichia coli in the stomach of the infant. [18]

Amoebozoa infections (amoebiasis)

A study demonstrated the ability of human milk proteins such as apo-lactoferrin, sIgA and lysozyme were able to kill Entamoeba histolytica trophozoites, stressing the importance of feeding breast milk to newborns. [17]

Viral infections including Poxvirus and Vaccinia Virus

A study from the University of Cape Town explored the antiviral properties of human breast milk and demonstrated breast milk provided protection against microbes, viruses and toxins thus reducing the incidence of diarrhea, respiratory diseases, and otitis media. Specifically, the studies showed the efficacy of breast milk to inhibit poxvirus and vaccinia virus in the lab. [21]

Allergic / Atopic Disease

As observed through select studies, breastfeeding during the first months after birth seems to protect the infant against Allergic Disease, including atopic eczema [6], allergic rhinitis [7], asthma [8], and food allergies [9].

Lauric Acid (Monolaurin) Levels in Breast Milk

Lauric acid levels in breast milk can vary. Many factors may contribute to higher or lower lauric acid detected in breast milk, which may include:

  1. Age: Mothers younger than 30 years old had higher levels of lauric acid detected in their breast milk compared to older mothers [2]

  2. Diet: A high-carbohydrate diet could contribute to higher levels of lauric acid in breast milk [3, 19]. A low-fat diet may also contribute to higher levels of lauric acid [5]

  3. Nationality or Ethnicity: In a study of 50 breast milk samples from women in nine different countries, women from The Philippines had almost twice the amount of lauric acid present in their breast milk compared to women from Australia, Canada, China, Chile, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, or the United States [4]

  4. Supplementation of fatty acids: Eating oils high in lauric acid (like coconut oil) has been shown to increase the presence of that acid in breast milk within 6 hours of consuming and remain elevated for 10-24 hours [11]. Eating 40 grams (about 3 tablespoons) of coconut oil has been shown to increase lauric acid in the milk of a nursing mother from 3.9% to 9.6% after 14 hours. [11]

  5. Delivery: Levels of lauric acid and other acids including myristic, alpha-linolenic, arachidonic, and eicosapentaenoic acid were significantly lower in women who had caesarean deliveries versus vaginal deliveries [20]

Monolaurin and Breastfeeding

Available published research did not indicate if monolaurin supplementation was recommended or approved during nursing and breastfeeding. However, various studies looked at the levels of fatty acids in breast milk including lauric acid – the acid which forms monolaurin.

One study looked at the consumption of different oils (including coconut oil) and the effect on the presence of lauric acid in breast milk. [11] The mothers were given a formula containing coconut oil and the results were observed suggesting there is a direct correlation with the oil consumed and the presence in breast milk a few hours later.

“Ingestion of the formula containing 40 g coconut oil increased the milk content of lauric acid over time (P < 0.001). Lauric acid increased from 3.9% of fatty acids at baseline to 9.2% at 10 hours and 9.6% at 14 hours”

Because lauric acid is converted to monolaurin in the small intestine, and because monolaurin has been researched for potential antibacterial and antiviral properties, some assumptions can be made about the benefits of ingestion via breast milk or breastfeeding.

One study explores the suggestion of replacing cow milk fats with vegetable fats (such as those from coconut oil) in baby formula due to the ability of medium chain fatty acids to inactivate various bacteria and viruses in studies. [1]

“Monoacylglycerols (MAGs) rich in monolaurin synthesized from coconut oil have also been shown to have antimicrobial activity against the dairy pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, in vitro. Coconut oil–derived MAGs have been found to be more listericidal than monolaurin itself, and more listericidal than bovine milk fat–derived MAGs. The aspirated stomach contents from infants fed formulas containing mixtures of bovine milk fat, medium-chain TAGs, corn oil, and coconut oil have been found to reduce titers of enveloped virus and to kill Staphylococcus epidermidis and Escherichia coli.” [1]

Additional studies are required to fully understand the impact, efficacy, and safety of utilizing coconut oil or monolaurin during breastfeeding of infants.

Conclusion

Breastfeeding provides many benefits to the developing infant including nutrition and immune support via its natural fat content. Lauric acid which is naturally present in breast milk metabolizes into monolaurin, and has been studied for its various health benefits across scientific literature. Lauric acid levels in breast milk vary and may be influenced by factors within and outside the control of the nursing mother such as diet and nationality.

Additional research is required to assess the therapeutic benefits of altering lauric acid levels in breast milk, and if there is an effect on a nursing infant. Given the absence of these studies, a recommendation to use monolaurin or lauric acid modifying supplements (like coconut oil) during nursing cannot be provided. As with all supplements, monolaurin (and in this case coconut oil) should be taken under the supervision of a medical professional.

References:

  1. Berger, Alvin; Fleith, Mathilde; Crozier, Gayle. “Nutritional Implications of Replacing Bovine Milk Fat With Vegetable Oil in Infant Formulas”. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: February 2000 - Volume 30 - Issue 2 - p 115-130

  2. Sinanoglou VJ, Cavouras D, Boutsikou T, et al. Factors affecting human colostrum fatty acid profile: A case study. PLoS One. 2017;12(4):e0175817. Published 2017 Apr 14. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0175817

  3. Mohammad MA, Sunehag AL, Haymond MW. De novo synthesis of milk triglycerides in humans. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Apr 1; 306(7):E838-47.

  4. Rebecca Yuhas, Kathryn Pramuk, Eric L. Lien. Human milk fatty acid composition from nine countries varies most in DHA. Lipids. September 2006, Volume 41, Issue 9, pp 851–858

  5. Craig-Schmidt MC, Weete JD, Faircloth SA, Wickwire MA, Livant EJ. The effect of hydrogenated fat in the diet of nursing mothers on lipid composition and prostaglandin content of human milk. Am J Clin Nutr 1984;39:778–86.

  6. Gdalevich M, Mimouni D, David M, Mimouni M 2001 Breast-feeding and the onset of atopic dermatitis in childhood: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. J Am Acad Dermatol 45: 520–257

  7. Mimouni Bloch A, Mimouni D, Mimouni M, Gdalevich M 2002 Does breastfeeding protect against allergic rhinitis during childhood? A meta-analysis of prospective studies. Acta Paediatr 91: 275–279

  8. Gdalevich M, Mimouni D, Mimouni M 2001 Breast-feeding and the risk of bronchial asthma in childhood. A systematic review with meta-analysis of prospective studies. J Pediatr 139: 261–266

  9. Halken S, Host A 2001 Prevention. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol 1: 229–236

  10. Kirsi Laiho, Anna-Maija Lampi, Mari Hämäläinen, Eeva Moilanen, Vieno Piironen, Taina Arvola, Stina Syrjänen & Erika Isolauri. Breast Milk Fatty Acids, Eicosanoids, and Cytokines in Mothers with and without Allergic Disease. Pediatric Research volume 53, pages 642–647 (2003)

  11. C A Francois S L Connor R C Wander W E Connor. Acute effects of dietary fatty acids on the fatty acids of human milk. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 67, Issue 2, 1 February 1998, Pages 301–308, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/67.2.301

  12. Margrit Hamosh, Jerry A. Peterson, Theresa R. Henderson, Ciaran D.Scallan, Radwin Kiwan, Roberto L.Ceriani, Martine Armand, Nifin R. Mehta, Paul Hamosh. Protective function of human milk: The milk fat globule. Seminars in Perinatology Volume 23, Issue 3, June 1999, Pages 242-249

  13. Charles E. Isaacs. The Antimicrobial Function of Milk Lipids. In: Woodward B., Draper H.H. (eds) Advances in Nutritional Research. Advances in Nutritional Research, 2001, vol 10. pp 271-285

  14. Larsen, S.A., Jr. and Homer, D.R. 1978. Relation of breast versus bottle feeding to hospitalization for gastroenteritis in a middle-class U.S. population. J. Pediatr.92:417–418

  15. Hylander, M.A., Strobino, D.M., and Dhanireddy, R. 1998 Human milk feeding and infection among very low birth weight infants.Pediatrics102(3):E38

  16. Welsh, J.K. and May, J.T. 1979. Anti-infective properties of breast milk. J. Pediatr. 94:1–9.

  17. Nidia León-Sicairos, Fernando López-Soto, Magda Reyes-López, Delfino Godínez-Vargas, Cynthia Ordaz-Pichardo, Mireya de la Garza. Amoebicidal Activity of Milk, Apo-lactoferrin, sIgA and Lysozyme. Clinical Medicine & Research June 1, 2006 vol. 4 no. 2 106-113

  18. Isaacs CE, Kashyap S, Heird WC, Thormar H. Antiviral and antibacterial lipids in human milk and infant formula feeds. Arch Dis Child. 1990 Aug;65(8):861-4.

  19. Nasser R, Stephen AM, Goh YK, Clandinin MT. The effect of a controlled manipulation of maternal dietary fat intake on medium and long chain fatty acids in human breast milk in Saskatoon, Canada. Int Breastfeed J. 2010;5: 3

  20. Sinanoglou VJ, Cavouras D, Boutsikou T, et al. Factors affecting human colostrum fatty acid profile: A case study. PLoS One. 2017;12(4):e0175817. Published 2017 Apr 14. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0175817

  21. Habtom H. Habte, Girish J. Kotwal, Zoë E. Lotz. Marilyn G. Tyler. Melissa Abrahams. Jerry Rodriques. Delawir Kahn. Anwar S. Mall. Antiviral Activity of Purified Human Breast Milk Mucin. Neonatology, December 2006.