The fatty acids in breast milk are encapsulated in fat globules surrounded by a triple-layered structure called a milk fat globule membrane, or MFGM. The MFGM is interspersed with a variety of proteins, enzymes, and cholesterol that confer many of the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of breast milk – the gold standard of infant nutrition.
MFGM influences many aspects of infant growth, especially cognitive development. Unfortunately, most infant formulas do not contain MFGM. However, a recent clinical trial found that MFGM from cows' milk exerts similar beneficial effects on human infants when included in infant formula. The double-blind, randomized, controlled trial involved 451 healthy, full-term infants who received either regular formula or formula containing MFGM and lactoferrin (a protein found in human and cows' milk) at concentrations similar to human milk.
At the end of the 18-month-long study, the infants who received formula with the MFGM and lactoferrin scored higher on cognitive, language, and motor development tests than infants who received ordinary formula. In fact, their scores were similar to those observed in children who were breastfed, suggesting that the addition of MFGM and lactoferrin to infant formulas could narrow the gap in cognitive development commonly observed between formula-fed infants and breastfed infants.
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