Toxic milk

I don’t often delete comments. In fact, I’ve only done it once before. Recently, that increased to two. The comment in question was in reply to a lady who mentioned she was feeding her four year old.  It read that she should be ashamed that she is *still* feeding her daughter as the toxins from her breast milk would likely cause autism and she hoped that her daughter turned out ok.

This angered me on many levels. Numero uno: she was only commenting to give unsolicited bollocky advice and not to say how great my blog is. Numero duex: for those that know, my boy has autism; I have found approximately several hundred reasons to blame myself for this and didn’t need another one.

It isn’t the first time I have heard about ‘toxins’ in breast milk and my own tits and teeth research showed up articles on the presence of mercury in boob juice which directly correlates to the number of fillings one has (nowt to be concerned about. Read here for more info). So what toxins are found in nipple-knocker-glories? Well….

A study looked at breast milk from two areas of America, North Carolina (5 samples from a milk bank) and inner-city Baltimore (8 samples from 3 non-smoking women collected over 3 days).  They were analysing for volatile organic compounds, like chemicals found in petrol and refrigerators.  MTBE (an additive used in unleaded petrol), chloroform (by-product from water disinfection processes), benzene (pollutant from anything that smokes) and toluene (car pollution, paints, adhesives and thinners), were all found in small amounts in the breast milk.

A simulated test, looking at exposure to an infant from a breastfeeding mother that may work in a paint shop or dry cleaners, for example, demonstrated that “perchloroethylene (dry cleaning chemical), bromochloroethane (was used in fire extinguishers but not any more), and 1,4-dioxane (in everything that foams) exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency non-cancer drinking water ingestion rates for children.”

During a 20-30 year period, organochlorine compounds were measured in human milk from women in Stockholm. It showed that a large proportion of the volatile compounds had significantly decreased over that time. However, PBDEs (used as a flame retardant in building materials, electronics, furnishings, motor vehicles, airplanes, plastics, and textiles) doubled in a five year period, demonstrating a direct correlation with the increase in environmental contamination from pollution.

Fifteen breast milk samples collected from women living in the city of Taranto, in Southern Italy, between 2008 and 2009, were tested for a number of chemical by-products that may be polluting the atmosphere. Four of these samples showed dioxin weekly intake values 10-40 times higher than is recommended by the WHO.

Do these studies make me want to beat myself with a stick and move my family to an oxygen tent in Frieburg, Germany (apparently, it’s very clean there)? Not really.  In fact, it makes me just emit a ‘meh’ sound with a slight shoulder shrug.

The first study was a very small sample and not really representative of a general population. It also found that inhalation exceeded the ingestion amount by 25-135 fold, meaning regardless of how a baby is being fed, an infant will be inhaling far more rubbish from the atmosphere. I suppose that does make Frieburg slightly more appealing.

The second study was a simulated study. No milk was actually analysed and, again, it doesn’t really apply to the general female population. However, it is perhaps something that women that do work in hazardous conditions should consider? More research is needed to look into whether the precautions taken to protect employees from harmful chemicals are enough to stop any contamination to their breast milk. If it isn’t, than the precautions aren’t good enough full stop.

The Stockholm study was concluded in 1997. In 2001, The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was signed by 50 UN states and became effective from May 2004. It’s aim is to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants. No further long term studies into PBDEs in breast milk have been conducted since 1997, so although we can’t assume it has automatically improved with the environmental treaty, looking at the data from the same study which showed a significant decrease in other compounds when other measures were brought into practice, it is not a stupid assumption to think that The Stockholm Convention has improved matters with all things mammary and milky.

The final study was the most recent, published this year. It was a small sample taken from women living in Taranto. Taranto is a large commercial port with well developed steel and iron foundaries, oil refineries, chemical works and food processing factories. I’m not sure what the autism rates are like in Taranto, but I can’t remember seeing any headlines about it. Again, a baby, regardless of how it is being fed, will unfortunately be inhaling the detritus being hosed into the atmosphere, and Taranto is not your normal suburban town.

A headline that made the rags recently was ‘Pollution Linked to Autism’. Scary stuff. WebMD then printed an article which cited expert opinion on the research which basically says, pollution may be a risk factor involved in autism for those living in polluted areas of the world, but it is by no means a cause.

Another hypothesise is that the growth factor IGF, abundant in breastmilk, is a possible autism suppressor and future treatment. However, the wonderful *inserts sarcasm* Dr Mercola has reported that we are consuming too much IGF as it is abundant in other food sources which is potentially causing us to be more autistic. *Scratches head*

From what I know about autism, it is a 50,000 piece puzzle of which we have only managed to create a third of the picture. Many pieces are still missing and we can continue to speculate, hypothesise and cogitate: vaccinations, too much TV, heavy metals, smoking, pollution, formula feeding, breast feeding, laughing too much, not enough tickles, watching Mary Poppins too often (I seriously thought Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent may have turned my boy a bit wrong in the head).

After all I have read on this subject, it is, at least, one less stick I won’t be beating myself with.

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