Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) are essential dietary nutrients required for the optimal growth and development of infants, particularly of the brain and retina. It is important for exclusively breastfed infants to receive milk of a correct balance between ω-6 and ω-3 fatty acids. In this study, we compared the composition of LC-PUFAs in the diet and milk of mothers and their infants' growth between Chinese and Swedish. Twenty-three and 19 mother-term infant pairs from a rural area of northern Beijing, China, and Stockholm, Sweden, who were 3 mo old and exclusively breastfed, were studied. The Chinese diet was higher in carbohydrate (17% of energy) but lower in protein (4% of energy) and fat (12% of energy) than the Swedish diet. The intake of Chinese mothers contained more linoleic acid (LA, C18:2 ω-6) and less arachidonic acid (AA, C20.4 ω-6), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5ω-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6ω-3) than that of Swedish mothers. The breast milk of the Chinese mothers had significantly higher LA and lower EPA and DHA levels than that of the Swedish mothers. However, in Chinese breast milk the AA level was significantly higher than that in Swedish breast milk. The recommended ranges of the ratios of LA to α-linolenic acid (LNA, C18:3 ω-3) and of AA to DHA in human milk are 5–10 and 0.5–1 compared with 23.0 and 3.1 in the Chinese breast milk, and 7.5 and 1.6 in the Swedish breast milk, respectively.
Conclusion: The diet of the studied Chinese mothers is less balanced with regard to the levels of ω-6 and ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) than that of the Swedish mothers, which is also mirrored in the breast milk of these mothers. The clinical relevance of the difference between the levels of LC-PUFAs in the breast milk of Chinese and Swedish mothers may be elucidated by a follow-up study of the cognitive and visual functions of the infants involved.