We showed previously that nonimmune human milk (NHM) kills Giardia lamblia trophozoites in vitro and presented evidence that killing requires the bile salt-stimulated lipase of milk. Since this enzyme is activated by bile salts, killing should be dependent on the presence of bile salts. We now show that killing by fresh NHM or NHM stored at -70 degrees C is totally dependent on sodium cholate (a bile salt). With less than 0.4 mM cholate, no parasites were killed, whereas with 1 mM cholate, greater than 99.7% were killed by 5% NHM in 30 min. Moreover, killing activity was completely heat labile. The G. lamblia-killing activity of human milk was greatly altered by storage at -10 or -20 degrees C. In less than 23 days, the 50% lethal dose decreased, cholate dependence was lost, and killing activity became heat stable. In contrast, the activity of milk stored at -70 degrees C remained unchanged. Milk lipase activity, like killing activity, became cholate independent during storage at -10 or -20 degrees C. On the basis of these results, we hypothesize that killing of G. lamblia by fresh NHM or NHM stored at -70 degrees C depends on bile salt-stimulated lipase, which must be activated by bile salts. In contrast, NHM stored at -20 degrees C accumulated free fatty acids which kill G. lamblia. In support of this thesis, milk stored at -10 degrees C had a concentration of 18.7 mM free fatty acids compared with only 1.1 mM in an identical sample stored at -70 degrees C.