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Breast milk is a complex and highly dynamic fluid that contains both nutritional and non-nutritional components. Some of these components provide breast milk aroma and taste aspects, such as those associated with garlic or coffee, potentially influencing the breastfed infant’s dietary preferences later in life. Findings from a new study suggest that the non-nutritional compound piperine transfers into breast milk, providing pungent flavor aspects.

Piperine is a bioactive compound found in black pepper that exerts anti-inflammatory, anti-pain, and anti-arthritic properties. Evidence indicates that piperine potentiates the beneficial health effects of curcumin, a bioactive compound found in turmeric.

Pungency is a sensory aspect of food, often referred to as spiciness, heat, or “bite.” Pungent compounds elicit their effects by triggering a specific protein in the mouth, called the TRPV1 receptor. Interestingly, repeated piperine exposure desensitizes the TRPV1 receptor.

The study involved 18 healthy breastfeeding mothers (average age, 32 years). Each of the mothers consumed a dish (referred to as a “curry”) containing a mixture of pungent ingredients, including red chili, ginger, piperine, and turmeric. The mothers provided breast milk samples one hour before consumption of the curry and again at one, two, and three hours afterward. The investigators assessed the milk for the presence of pungent compounds using mass spectrometry.

They found that piperine transferred to the breast milk but in concentrations far below the taste threshold for adults. However, the authors noted that despite the low concentrations, piperine would still interact with the infant’s TRPV1 receptors, potentially desensitizing them and contributing to greater tolerance to piperine later in life.

In a related study, the investigators found that aroma compounds present in the curry dish transferred to breast milk, altering the milk’s aroma. Taken together, these findings suggest that non-nutritive substances present in a breastfeeding mother’s diet transfer to her milk, potentially influencing dietary preferences later in her infant’s life. Learn more about the composition of breast milk in our overview article.

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