Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Composition in Breast Milk Plasma of HIV-infected and Uninfected Mothers in Relation to Infant Clinical Outcomes

Lucy Mabaya*, Hilda Tendisa Matarira, Donald Moshen Tanyanyiwa, Cuthbert Musarurwa, Johannes Mukwembi, Taona Emmah Mudluli, Tatenda Marera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The increased coverage of prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) services has significantly reduced paediatric HIV infection incidence. The aim of the study was to compare breast milk omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid profiles of HIV infected and uninfected mothers and determine the association between fatty acid profiles and postnatal transmission of HIV, morbidity/mortality of HIV exposed and unexposed infants. Methods: A prospective cohort study of 57 HIV infected and 57 HIV uninfected lactating mothers was conducted in Gweru, Zimbabwe from July 2019 to March 2020. The women’s 114 babies (term and preterm) were also enrolled and stratified by HIV exposure and infection status. The mother-infant pairs were followed up at 6 weeks, 16 weeks and 6 months postpartum to determine, HIV transmission rate, breast milk polyunsaturated fatty acid profiles as well as infant clinical outcomes. Results: The mean breast milk docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) levels in HIV uninfected mothers (0.82 ± 0.92; 0.47 ± 0.75 μg/ml respectively) at 6 weeks postpartum were significantly higher compared to those of HIV infected mothers (0.33 ± 0.32; 0.08 ± 0.14 μg/ml) respectively. The same pattern was observed at 16 weeks postpartum in terms of DHA and EPA mean concentration. However, the arachidonic acid (AA) levels and AA/DHA ratio measured at 6 weeks postpartum were significantly higher in HIV infected mothers (2.31 ± 2.01; 17.18 ± 52.47 respectively) compared to HIV uninfected mothers (0.82 ± 0.54; 9.71 ± 21.80; P <.001). A higher morbidity rate was observed amongst HIV exposed infants than HIV unexposed infants (3.26 ± 0.13; 2.49 ± 0.09; P <.001) respectively. A significant positive correlation was observed between AA and infant morbidity (r =.388; P <.001). Conclusion: Deficiencies in breast milk omega-3 fatty acids were observed in HIV infected women. Maintaining a healthy balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid diets is critical for breast feeding mothers regardless of their HIV status. The adverse clinical outcomes observed amongst HIV exposed infants emphasise their vulnerability under conditions of maternal universal antiretroviral therapy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNutrition and Metabolic Insights
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • breast milk
  • infant clinical outcome
  • morbidity


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