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A stable isotope tracer method was utilized to measure quantitatively the secretion of diet-derived fatty acids (FA) into human milk. A mixture of [2H6]tripalmitin, [2H18]-triolein, and [2H12]trilinolein was administered to three healthy, lactating women 22 to 30 years of age. Milk and blood samples were collected sequentially for 72 hr. The FA composition and concentration of total plasma, lipoprotein, and milk triglycerides were determined by gas-liquid chromatography (GLC) and the isotopic enrichment was determined by gas-liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (GLC-MS). There were no statistically significant differences in mammary secretion of the individual fats, either by a single individual or between subjects. The mean secretion of fat by one breast was 5.11 +/- 1.26% of the dose (CV = 25%). There was a significant 6.0-hr delay between peak occurrence of the tracer in plasma and its occurrence in milk. The lipids are transported to the mammary gland primarily by the chylomicron and very low density lipoprotein triglycerides.