Breast may be best, but is breast milk good for adults?
Breast may be best for babies thanks to the vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes that breast milk contains, but lately a new health trend is sweeping the nation. Babies might not be the only ones with a taste for breast milk - in the US, many adults are using breast milk as a health and fitness supplement, and the trend is hitting the UK too.
This strange phenomenon is puzzling experts - breast milk is for babies, not adults, right? We're not the first to use breast milk as adults - in Ancient Egypt, breast milk was blended with honey and used as a medicine. Today, some men have decided that nutrient-rich breast milk is the key to their gym success. One man told New York Magazine, "It gives me incredible energy I don't get from other food and drinks." And on bodybuilding forums across the internet, bodybuilders are touting breast milk's benefits. But where has this trend come from and what are the implications for our health?
An emerging trend
It's perhaps no surprise that the trend for breast milk has taken off. We're always looking for supplements to enhance our health and fitness, and because breast milk is a natural product, it's experiencing a surge in popularity. Of course, you can't just pop to your nearest health food store for a bottle of the white stuff, so many men are turning to classified websites which advertise breast milk for sale. Women sell their milk on sites such as Only the Breast, for anywhere from £2 per 30ml and more - this stuff's not cheap!
Why is breast milk becoming such a popular supplement? Well, its nutritional and health benefits, for a start. Breast milk has a 60:40 ratio of whey to casein proteins, and it contains growth hormones as well as the perfect amount of sugar, fat, protein and water to help babies grow - it's also rich in antibodies and nutrients.
What are the pros?
As with any supplement, there are pros and cons to adding breast milk to your diet. So what are the pros? Well, for a start, breast milk comes from humans, so it's easier for us to digest than cow's milk, and it's 100% natural. Breast milk contains infection-fighting immunoglobins, but it's worth noting that most adults already have these.
There is limited evidence to suggest that a component in breast milk, known as HAMLET, could be used to treat cancer (1). Researchers from Gothenburg University reported a reduction in the size of bladder tumours after injecting them with a breast milk compound - a protein known as alpha-lactalbumin. Mixing this compound with oleic acid creates HAMELT, which could be used to attack cancerous cells. The Swedish team found that 40 different types of tumour were suspectible to the anti-cancer effects of HAMLET.
A wonder cure?
Breast milk has even been hailed as a 'wonder cure' for conditions such as diabetes, arthiritis and acne (2). It's thought that breast milk could be a new source of stem cells, which could be used to treat leukaemia, eye conditions, diabetes and Parkinson's disease. There's also research to suugest that the lactoferrin in breast milk could be used to treat auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Yet the benefits of breast milk consumption are unproven and there is a lack of clinical evidence to support these claims.
What about the cons?
You can't buy breast milk at your local health food store or supermarket, so there's the risk of disease when consuming milk from an unknown source. The FDA warns that milk bought online probably comes from individuals who haven't been screened for disease, whilst the milk itself won't have been checked for contamination risk. Because breast milk is a bodily fluid, it can carry hepatitis, HIV and other infections. A study carried out last Autumn in the US revealed that almost 75% of breast milk bought online at OnlytheBreast.com was contaminated with germs found in human waste and other bacteria which could cause disease.
The study, carried out by researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, looked at over 100 samples of breast milk bought online and compared them to unpasteurised samples which were donated to a milk bank. Sara A. Keim, the study's lead researcher, explained the reason behind the research, "I can't think of something you can buy online where you have less ability to validate the quality. Even frozen milk was just as contaminated as thawed milk. There wasn't a whole lot recipients can rely on to know that it's ok."
Coliform, staphlococcus and streptococcus bacteria were found in the milk samples, with around 20% of samples containing cytomegalovirus (CMV), which isn't harmful to adults, but could be dangerous for sick or premature babies (3). In fact, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that adult consumption of breast milk provides any health benefits whatsoever. A spokeswoman for the British Nutrition Foundation said, "Breast milk is designed specifically to match a baby's requirements and has all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need to grow. It is not designed to support adult health."
Should you try breast milk?
If you're considering adding breast milk as a supplement to your smoothie or protein shake, you may want to think twice about it. Of course, if it's your own, we're not saying you shouldn't give it a try, but buying milk online could mean you end up with a contaminated product which could cause serious disease. So it's worth bearing this in mind before you make a decision which could affect your health and well-being. If you're looking to add extra protein to your diet - try eating more lean mean, nuts or pulses. For extra vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, fruit and vegetables, eggs and dairy are all a great way to make sure your body is getting the nutrition it needs, naturally.
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