Analyzing PFAS in Human Breast Milk Using Lipidomics

ColumnNovember 2021
Volume 17
Issue 11
Pages: 8

Lipidomics researchers from Örebro University have developed a method to analyze levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in human breast milk using ultrahigh-pressure liquid chromatography combined with quadrupole time‑of‑flight mass spectrometry (UHPLC–QTOF-MS) (1). The study aimed to assess the impact of PFAS on the composition of breast milk and the potential effect on nutrition and infant health. The analysis of breast milk is complicated because the composition varies highly between individuals. PFAS are a growing concern because they are, or can degrade to, persistent chemicals that accumulate in humans, animals, and the environment (2). This bioaccumulation effect increases the levels of PFAS and potential detrimental effects on human health. This is the first study that indicates PFAS can change the composition of breast milk, according to a press release on the University’s website (3).

In this study involving 44 participants, the researchers measured the levels of PFAS and lipids in a mother’s serum and performed lipidomics analysis of breast milk collected shortly after the birth and then three months later. The published research concluded that PFAS levels were inversely proportional to total lipid levels in the breast milk collected after the delivery. In the group with highest exposure, the ratio of acylated saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in triacylglycerols was higher. High exposure to PFAS was linked to alterations in phospholipid composition, which could increase the size of milk fat globules and could possibly lead to slower infant growth and higher intestinal inflammatory markers. The researchers concluded that PFAS present in human breast milk could possibly have a detrimental effect on the health and growth of the children with higher levels of PFAS.

Professor Tuulia Hyötyläinen, who performed the study in collaboration with Matej Orešič, Professor of medical sciences at Örebro University, and a team of clinical researchers from the University of Helsinki, commented that breast milk is becoming less nutritious because of chemical exposure that causes changes in the composition of breast milk, with less fat content in the milk. There is also an increase in saturated fats at the expense of the healthier, unsaturated ones, according to Hyötyläinen.

Researchers at Örebro University will proceed with an expanded study of 380 women and their children.


  1. Tuulia Hyötyläinen et al., Environment International 157, 106855 (2021).
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Toby Astill | Image Credit: © Thermo Fisher Scientific