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Fat content, energy value and fatty acid profile of donkey milk during lactation and implications for human nutrition

Giovanni Martemucci and Angela Gabriella D’Alessandro*

Author Affiliations

Department of Agricultural and Environmental Science, University of Bari, Via G. Amendola, 165/A, 70126, Bari, Italy

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Lipids in Health and Disease 2012, 11:113  doi:10.1186/1476-511X-11-113

Published: 11 September 2012

Abstract

Background and aims

Milk contains numerous nutrients. The content of n-3 fatty acids, the n-6/n-3 ratio, and short- and medium-chain fatty acids may promote positive health effects. In Western societies, cow’s milk fat is perceived as a risk factor for health because it is a source of a high fraction of saturated fatty acids. Recently, there has been increasing interest in donkey’s milk. In this work, the fat and energetic value and acidic composition of donkey’s milk, with reference to human nutrition, and their variations during lactation, were investigated. We also discuss the implications of the acidic profile of donkey’s milk on human nutrition.

Methods

Individual milk samples from lactating jennies were collected 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, 150, 180 and 210days after foaling, for the analysis of fat, proteins and lactose, which was achieved using an infrared milk analyser, and fatty acids composition by gas chromatography.

Results

The donkey’s milk was characterised by low fat and energetic (1719.2kJ·kg-1) values, a high polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) content of mainly α-linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA), a low n-6 to n-3 FA ratio or LA/ALA ratio, and advantageous values of atherogenic and thrombogenic indices. Among the minor PUFA, docosahesaenoic (DHA), eicosapentanoic (EPA), and arachidonic (AA) acids were present in very small amounts (<1%). In addition, the AA/EPA ratio was low (0.18). The fat and energetic values decreased (P < 0.01) during lactation.

The fatty acid patterns were affected by the lactation stage and showed a decrease (P < 0.01) in saturated fatty acids content and an increase (P < 0.01) in the unsaturated fatty acids content. The n-6 to n-3 ratio and the LA/ALA ratio were approximately 2:1, with values <1 during the last period of lactation, suggesting the more optimal use of milk during this period.

Conclusions

The high level of unsaturated/saturated fatty acids and PUFA-n3 content and the low n-6/n-3 ratio suggest the use of donkey’s milk as a functional food for human nutrition and its potential utilisation for infant nutrition as well as adult diets, particular for the elderly.

Keywords:
Donkey’s milk; Energetic value; Fatty acids; Nutritional remarks