Complex Lipids

Potential for cognition

Evidence suggests the complex lipids that surround the milkfat droplets may play an important role in cognitive development and digestive health.

For the past 14 years at the Fonterra Research and Development Centre (FRDC) in Palmerston North, research scientists, Dr Paul McJarrow and Bertram Fong, along with their colleagues have been researching complex milk lipids. Our NZMP SureStart™ Lipid 100 was recently a finalist for Ingredient of the year at the NutraIngredients Innovation Awards 2017 in Geneva.

Two of our Fonterra farmers, Shaun and Anna, visited Adelaide to see how their milk and Fonterra research is being used by Australia’s largest research organisation, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), who want to explore what Fonterra scientists have discovered. Watch their story below.

Complex lipids and cognition

In milk, complex lipids such as gangliosides and phospholipids are part of the milkfat globule membrane (MGFM).   

Gangliosides in the brain have a critical role to play in neural development through neural cell migration and formation of the synaptic network.  Emerging evidence indicates that increasing dietary sources of gangliosides has been shown to have benefits in neural development, gut health, inflammation and anti infection.

Phospholipids are part of cellular membranes and play wide ranging roles in health and development. Of special interest are those found mainly in mammalian milk – phosphatidylserine and sphingomyelin which are involved in protection and cognition.

Clinical studies  on complex lipids 

Human breastmilk contains more milkfat globule membrane components (including phospholipids and gangliosides) than cows milk and standard infant formula (1). We have measured the ganglioside and phospholipid composition of human breast milk samples collected from Malaysian and Chinese mothers using the most advanced methods of analysis for milk developed by Fonterra scientists (2-4).

SureStart™ Lipid 100 can be added to paediatric formulas to help increase the phospholipid and ganglioside content to more closely match the levels found in naturally in human breastmilk, as well as providing structural components found in the milkfat globule membrane that are otherwise lower in standard infant formulas based on vegetable oils as the fat sources. 

Our pilot clinical study (5) has shown there was a developmental benefit for infants consuming a Ganglioside-enhanced infant formula. Our studies have also shown that milk fat globule membrane derived Gangliosides can cross the human placenta (6) and that increased consumption improves fetal brain composition in pre-clinical models (7).

Formulation Development

The inclusion of vegetable oils in infant formula are necessary to ensure the desired lipid profile is obtained to support infant growth and development.  However, vegetable oils do not contain milkfat globule membrane.  Cows’ milk is a valuable source of milkfat globule membrane complex lipids such as gangliosides and sphingomyelin.


  • Contains gangliosides and all five phospholipids, including sphingomyelin
  • Emerging evidence to illustrate potential to support paediatric cognitive development, assist in protecting against infections, may support gut maturation 
  • Enables formulation flexibility
  • Available in wet and dry blend specifications

Product range

  • NZMP SureStart™ Lipid 100:  A milkfat globule membrane (MFGM) complex lipid material made during the manufacture of anhydrous milkfat from cream.  This product is manufactured in New Zealand with specifications tailored for wet and dry processing of maternal and paediatric products.

Important choices

In infant nutrition, there’s no question that ‘breast is best’. But if a mother cannot or chooses not to breast feed, a suitable infant formula is necessary. 


Contact our account team for more information



  1. Fonterra Research and Development Centre Internal Report
  2. Fong, B., C. Norris, Lowe E, McJarrow P. (2009) Liquid Chromatography-High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry for Quantitative Analysis of Gangliosides. Lipids, 44(9): 867-874.
  3. Ma L., Liu, X., MacGibbon, A. K. H., Rowan, A., McJarrow, P., & Fong, B. Y. (2015). Lactational changes in concentration and distribution of ganglioside molecular species in human breast milk from Chinese mothers. Lipids, 50, 1145-1154.
  4. Ma L, MacGibbon AKH, Mohamed HJB, Loy SL, Rowan A, McJarrow P, Fong B ( 2015) Determination of ganglioside concentrations in breast milk and serum from Malaysian mothers using a high performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry-multiple reaction monitoring method. International Dairy Journal, 49: p. 62-71
  5. Gurnida DA, Rowan AM, Idjradinata P, Muchtadi D, Sekarwana N. (2012) Association of complex lipids containing gangliosides with cognitive development of 6-month-old infants. Early Hum Dev., 88, 595-601. DOI: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2012.01.003.  
  6. Mitchell MD, Henare K, Balakrishnan B, Lowe E, Fong BY, McJarrow P. (2012) Transfer of gangliosides across the human placenta. Placenta,33(4):312-6. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2011.12.018. Epub 2012 Jan 9.
  7. Gustavsson M, Hodgkinson SC, Fong B, Norris C, Guan J, Krageloh CU, Breier BH, Davison M, McJarrow P, Vickers MH. (2012) Maternal supplementation with a complex milk lipid mixture during pregnancy and lactation alters neonatal brain lipid composition but lacks effect on cognitive function in rats. Nutr Res. 30(4):279-89.

Sourced from cows’ milk

Gangliosides and sphingomyelin are not found in vegetable sources

Multiple benefits

Emerging role in brain and gut development

Uniquely gentle processing

ensures all key bioactive components are retained