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Milk digestion findings 'blueprint' for specialty dairy, drug developments

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By Mark Astley+

25-Jun-2014
Last updated the 25-Jun-2014 at 15:51 GMT

Milk digestion findings 'blueprint' for specialty dairy developments

Fresh scientific findings on the structure of milk during digestion could lead to the development of more advanced weight loss drinks, formula for premature babies, and a new form of drug delivery, the Australian researchers being the discovery have claimed.

As detailed in their study, Formation of Highly Organized Nanostructures during the Digestion of Milk, researchers from the Monash University of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) in Australia examined the nanostructure of milk to establish how its components interest with the human digestive system.

Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), the study found “highly ordered geometric nanostructures during the digestion of dairy milk.”

This discovery, they claim, could provide a "blueprint" for the development of specialty dairy products and the creation of a new system for drug delivery.

“By unlocking the detailed structure of milk we have the potential to create milk loaded with fat soluble vitamins and brain building molecules for premature babies, or a drink that slows digestion so people feel fuller for longer,” said lead researcher, Stefan Salentinig.

“We could even harness milk’s ability as a ‘carrier’ to develop new forms of drug delivery.”

"Unique structure"

Until now, Salentinig claimed, little research has been conducted to establish how milk fats interact with the digestive system.

“We knew about the building blocks of milk and that milk fat has significant influence on the flavour, texture and nutritional value of all dairy food," he said.

"But what we didn’t know was the structural arrangement of this fat during digestion,” said Salentinig.

By recreating the characteristics of the digestive system in a glass beaker and adding cows’ milk, the Monash University team discovered that milk has a "unique structure" during digestion, which it described as "similar to a sponge."

They found that "an emulsion of fats, nutrients and water forms a structure which enhances digestion."

“We found that when the body starts the digestion process, an enzyme called lipase breaks down the fat molecules to form a highly geometrically ordered structure. These small and highly organized components enable fats, vitamins and lipid-soluble drugs to cross cell membranes and get into the circulatory system,” said Salentinig.

The Monash University team now plans to team up with nutritionists to further its findings.

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