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Breast Milk Is Best For Babies But Moms Could Also Be Passing Harmful Chemicals, Experts Warn

22 August 2015, 9:57 am EDT By Jill Arce Tech Times
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The health benefits of breastfeeding are countless, but new research found how it can transfer a commonly used industrial chemical called PFAS to infants.  ( Al van Akker | Flickr )

It looks like the "Breast milk is best for babies" directive should have 'pure' or 'chemical-free' inserted at the front.

A recent study found that while mothers make an effort to breastfeed their babies, the milk that makes it to the babies' digestive systems may contain a class of widely-used industrials chemicals known to be linked with cancer and immune function interference.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that each month they are breastfed, infants experience a build-up of perflourinated alkylated substances (PFAS) by 20 to 30 percent. This first study, published online Aug. 20 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, shows extent to which the chemical is transferred to infants through breastfeeding and quantifies their levels over time.

PFASs are most commonly used in making products resistant to stains, grease and water. Stain-proof textiles, food packaging, lubricants, paints and water coloring are just some of the products that have been using this chemical for over 60 years now. While PFAS have their beneficial uses on these products, they contaminate drinking water and especially drinking water sources near production facilities in the US. These chemicals then bioaccumulate in food chains, persisting in the body for long periods of time. They can therefore be regularly found in animal and human blood, resulting in a link with endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity and immune system dysfunction.

"We knew that small amounts of PFAs can occur in breast milk, but our serial blood analyses now show a buildup in the infants, the longer they are breastfed," explained Phillippe Grandjean, environmental health adjunct professor at Harvard T.H Chan School.

In the study, the researchers followed 81 children born in the Farce Islands between 1997 and 2000, and looked at their blood to derive levels of five types of PFASs, at birth and at the ages of 11 months, 18 months and 5 years. Of course, the PFAS levels were also analyzed in the children's mothers when they were at their 32nd week of pregnancy.

Results of the study revealed that PFASs levels increased in the children's blood by about 20 to 30 percent each month. For children who were only partially breastfed, the researchers found lower increases of PFASs. The serum concentration levels of the compounds in the blood of children were eventually seen to have exceeded that of their mothers by the end of breastfeeding.

The researchers did find one type of PFAS, called perfluorohexane sulfonate that did not increase with breastfeeding. All of the five types that increased during breastfeeding, decreased after the period of breastfeeding ended.

According to the researchers, the presence of these pollutants being transferred to infants should be a concern, but there is no other reason to discourage breastfeeding, and there are no current laws in the U.S. that require testing of PFASs with regard to their transfer to babies. 

Photo: Al Van Akker | Flickr

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