Could formula be improved by an ‘often removed’ ingredient?

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Mead Johnson infant formula study suggests milk fat globule membrane benefits

Related tags Infant formula Infant nutrition Mead johnson nutrition Cognition

Infants who consume formula containing milk fat globule membrane score higher in developmental test as they grow older, according to a new Mead Johnson backed study.

The clinical trial data suggests that milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), which is often removed during the homogenisation process that formulas undergo, could help boost infant development.

According to the data published in the Journal of Pediatrics​ infants receiving formula with added bovine MFGM and bovine lactoferrin had higher parent-reported developmental scores from 4 to 9 months of age, an accelerated neurodevelopmental profile at one year of age, improved sustained attention at one year and some improved language outcomes at 18 months.

"Normal milk, including human milk, is composed of fat droplets which are surrounded by a membrane containing potentially important nutrients, including proteins, sugars and lipids,"​ noted study co-author Professor John Colombo from the University of Kansas. "In homogenised formula, the droplets are broken up, and these membrane nutrients are typically removed."

Colombo and his colleagues added that human milk is recognised as the gold standard for infant nutrition – adding that the World Health Organization recommends only breastfeeding until an infant is six months old.

However, they noted that for various reasons, including medical problems and societal pressures, a significant percentage of infants around the world instead receive formula, much of which does not contain MFGM.

Trial data

The trial was conducted by a team assembled and sponsored by formula maker Mead Johnson Nutrition to gauge the importance of the membrane.

Colombo and his colleagues enrolled 451 infants in this multi-centre, double-blind, randomised controlled clinical trial in 2014 and 2015 at three sites in China. Of these, 291 completed the study.

Participating infants were assessed using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, third edition, a commonly used test of neurodevelopment, said the team.

Results from the trial showed that infants in the group given MFGM scored higher in tests of cognitive, language and motor development by their first birthdays than infants consuming a milk-based formula that didn't contain MFGM.

While infant growth was not affected by MFGM-added formula, the team said that infants receiving MFGM formula were reported to have significantly fewer adverse gastrointestinal and respiratory-associated problems through 18 months of age.

“Infants receiving formula with added bovine MFGM and bovine lactoferrin had an accelerated neurodevelopmental profile at day 365 and improved language subcategories at day 545,”​ concluded the team. “Formulas were associated with age-appropriate growth and significantly fewer diarrhoea and respiratory-associated adverse events through 545 days of age.”

“Therefore, dietary bMFGM and bovine lactoferrin together may not only provide a better approximation of the bioactive composition of human milk, but also contribute to beneficial cognitive, gastrointestinal, and respiratory health outcomes,”​ they added.

However, Colombo and his team also said the field of MFGM research is ‘rapidly emerging’ and while the data from the new study adds to this knowledge base, further data “will certainly be needed” in order to evaluate neurodevelopmental outcomes in older children and to help establish how the effects of MFGM may be shown over time.

Source: Journal of Pediatrics
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2019.08.030
“Improved Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Associated with Bovine Milk Fat Globule Membrane and Lactoferrin in Infant Formula: A Randomized, Controlled Trial”
Authors: Fei Li, et al

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