Iron absorption from human milk, simulated human milk, and proprietary formulas

J. A. McMillan, F. A. Oski, G. Lourie, R. M. Tomarelli, S. A. Landaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Studies from the authors' laboratory have shown that iron is better absorbed from human milk than from cow milk and that human milk can provide sufficient iron for infants during their first year. We compared iron availability from human milk with that from other formulas and determined the factors responsible for its superiority. Adults were fed 100 ml of human milk, simulated human milk, simulated human milk containing added lactoferrin, two commercial formulas containing iron, 12 mg/qt, and human milk that had been boiled. The simulated human milk resembled human milk in concentration of protein, fat, carbohydrate, iron, total minerals, calcium, and phosphorus. Iron 59 was added to each feeding and iron incorporation into RBCs was determined 14 days after each feeding. Percent iron absorption was highest from human milk and lowest from the commercial formulas. The simulated human milk supported a 9.0% absorption; addition of lactoferrin reduced this to 4.7%. Net iron absorption was 0.12 mg/liter from human milk and 0.40 and 0.37 mg/liter from the iron-enriched commercial formulas. Absorption of iron from boiled human milk was the same as from the unboiled milk. This study confirms the unique ability of human milk to promote iron absorption. Simple manipulation of the protein, fat, lactose, calcium, phosphorus, or lactoferrin content of proprietary milk did not reproduce the iron absorption demonstrated with human milk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)896-900
Number of pages5
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1977
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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