6/22/12 - human female breast milk

In today's excerpt - human female breasts, which gain much attention for reasons unrelated to their milk, accumulate more toxins than any other organ in the body and pass them on to infants as part of breast milk:

"Breasts, it turns out, are a particularly fine mirror of our industrial lives. They accumulate more toxins than other organs and process them differently.

"If human breast milk, nature's perfect food, came stamped with an ingredients label, it would read something like this: 4 percent fat, vitamins A, C, E, and K, sugars, essential minerals, proteins, enzymes, and antibodies. It contains 100 per­cent of the recommended daily allowance of virtually everything a baby needs to grow, plus, as we've seen, a solid hedge of extras to help ward off a lifetime of diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer. Despite exhaustion, visiting relatives, and dirty laundry, every time we nurse our babies, the love hormone oxytocin courses out of our pituitaries like a warm bath. Human milk is like ice cream, penicil­lin, and the drug ecstasy all wrapped up in two pretty packages.

"But read down the label a little farther, and the fine print sounds considerably less appetizing: DDT, PCBs, trichloroethylene, perchlorate, dibenzofurans, mercury, lead, benzene, arsenic. When we nurse our babies, we feed them not only the fats and sugars that fire their immune systems, cellular metabolisms, and cerebral synapses. We also feed them, in albeit miniscule amounts, paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, wood preservatives, toilet deodorizers, cosmetic additives, gasoline by-products, rocket fuel, termite poisons, fungi­cides, and flame-retardants.

"If, as Cicero said, your face tells the story of your mind, your breast milk tells the decades-old story of your diet, your neighbor­hood, and increasingly, your household decor. Remember that old college futon? It's there. That cool paint in your bathroom? There. The chemical cloud your landlord used to kill cockroaches? Yup. Ditto, the mercury in last week's sushi, the benzene from your gas station, the perftuorooctanoic acid (an anti-grease coating) from your latte cup and sofa upholstery, the preservative parabens from your face cream, the chromium from your nearby smoke stack. One of the ironic properties of breast milk is that its high fat and protein contents attract heavy metals and other contaminants. If human milk were sold at the local Piggly Wiggly, it would exceed the fed­eral safety levels for some of those chemicals in food.

"On a body weight basis, the dietary doses our babies get are much higher than the doses we get. This is not only because they're smaller, but also because their food—our milk—contains more concentrated contaminants than our food. It's the law of the food chain, and it's called biomagnification.

"To refresh that lesson from seventh grade, here's how it works: Animals at the top of the food chain receive the concentrated energy and persistent chemicals of all of the biota underneath them. Each member up the food chain takes in approximately 10 to 100 times the load of fat-loving toxins of its counterpart below. This is why a slab of shark meat contains more mercury than its weight in plank­ton. Ocean food chains are longer than terrestrial ones, so people who eat many marine carnivores carry higher body concentrations of some chemicals than the vegan who lurks at your local salad bar or even the steak lover next door. The Inuit, although they live in the remote Arctic with little nearby industry, are the most contami­nated population on earth, besides victims of industrial accidents. But don't picture Eskimo Man in sealskin on the top of the food chain. Picture his suckling baby, who occupies yet another trophic level higher up.

"If that's not creepy enough, some of the chemicals we pass on to our daughters will stay in their bodies long enough for them to bequeath them to their offspring. Even if we cleaned up our planet tomorrow, the industrial detritus of the last century has created a three-generation problem."


Florence Williams


Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History


W.W. Norton & Company


Copyright 2012 by Florence Williams


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