Xanthophyll esters are found in human colostrum

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Carotenoids in human milk are associated with other lipid counterparts in several metabolic processes. One interesting association that has not been demonstrated to date is the presence of xanthophyll esters. Colostrum and mature milk samples were analyzed to determine the occurrence of xanthophyll esters and identify the compounds. Thus, the association of the amounts of these compounds with lactation and whether they are significant contributors to the carotenoid profile of human milk was assessed.

Methods and results

Pre-term and term delivering mothers were included in the study to donate colostrum at 3–5 days postpartum and mature milk at 15 days postpartum. Carotenoids extracts were subjected to a clean-up procedure to remove the triacylglycerol fraction and then analyzed by HPLC-MSn. Identification of xanthophyll esters was achieved by considering their chromatographic behaviour, UV-visible characteristics and MSn features.


Xanthophyll esters are significant contributors to the carotenoid profile in the colostrum, while mature milk does not contain these compounds. Therefore, fatty acid acylation to xanthophylls is activated during the accumulation of carotenoids in the human mammary gland. The sharp decline in the amount of xanthophyll esters in mature milk indicates that the lipophilic components are those recently incorporated in the mammary epithelium.

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