Comments from readers:
(Comments from readers who were referring to or responding to publications of Pollution Action*)
“I have been a womb to tomb physician since 1972. As such, I witnessed and helped the transition from bottle feeding to breast feeding babies. Medical personnel, lactation nurses, and all manner of support organizations cropped up to assist all new moms in the art and technique of breastfeeding. We told mothers “it’s natural, human milk provides better immune protection, milk allergies are less, childhood obesity will be less”, and a host of other reasons why bottle feeding should not be the way to go. I certainly was deeply involved in this shift to breast feeding, as I delivered thousands of babies. By the end of the 70s, breastfeeding had become the norm.
“Most of the information we provided about the need for breastfeeding was, as it turns out, based on assumptions, and very little research. Now an organization called Pollution Action (pollutionaction.org) is sounding the alarm with some very disturbing figures and research regarding breastfeeding. It turns out that all the medical reasons for breastfeeding (beyond the bonding and nurturing aspects) have not turned out quite right. The predicted decrease in childhood obesity has actually been a disastrous increase. The incidence of autism has skyrocketed. Ditto childhood cancers, infectious diseases, and attention deficit disorders, to name a few. Why would any of these be related to breast milk?
“So here’s some statistics -life expectancy is longer in low breastfeeding countries than most high breast-feeding countries. Various childhood diseases – cancers, salmonella, diabetes type 1, and whooping cough, among others, are a whopping 23%-5,000% higher in the higher breast-feeding countries of Europe, compared to the lower breast feeding countries. Autism rates are less than half in the low breastfeeding countries or Europe and states of America.
“Why should this be? Well, it turns out that the natural physiological response to toxins in the body is to find ways to either dump them, or store them in fat. In the breast feeding mom, toxins are dumped into breast milk at an alarming rate, especially for the firstborn. Each subsequent child gets a lower dose of toxins, because mom has detoxified considerably in the first child’s breast milk. I won’t go into great detail here, but here’s a few examples. Dioxins, a neurodevelopmental and cancer causing toxin, is 86 times higher in breastfed infants in their first year, than the highest safe levels stated by the EPA. For a much more complete listing of the toxins ingested at very high and dangerous levels from breast milk, and what they are likely causing, do go and explore pollutionaction.org.
“We have to accept that even the most fastidious, organic vegetarian among us is receiving a daily dose of toxins, already in the environment. And those toxins are being concentrated in breast milk and fed to our children at an alarming level, with apparent disastrous results. I don’t pretend to have an answer here, but it may be that new parents will one day be counselled to avoid breast feeding for just all of the above reasons. This is and would be a tragedy, but the facts are getting critical that we must not allow this high level of toxins in our precious babies.
“Again, if this issue concerns you, do check out pollutionaction.org for further reading and much more detail, as well as a thorough listing of all the research papers that supports this information.”
(The above blog was posted in 2013 on the website of Dr. Jan T. Adams. As of April, 2021, this content can be found on her website at https://jantadams.wordpress.com/author/jantadams/ , scrolling far down on that page to the breastfeeding blog entry.)
The following is from a Maine pediatrician’s blog, extensively referring to our publications in two separate installments, by Dr. Peter Morningstar. He had unanswered questions about illnesses of his patients and about the asthma of his long-breastfed child and of his sister’s two long-breastfed children, despite absence of asthma in the parents; these developments contrasted with the outstanding health of his adopted children who had been bottle fed. Then a pediatrician colleague showed him one of our publications:
"Last notes on Infant Feeding Posted on July 8, 2013 by Peter Morningstar
Breast feeding is superior in (various) ways to bottle feeding, but the data presented by the writer at pollutionaction.org is impressive as respects the way in which industrialized society has so poisoned our world, that even the milk fed our babies by our mothers may not be safe, and may be some part of the cause of increases in autism, cancer, and immune illnesses in our children over the past forty years. I hope this issue is studied more to resolve the question of the safety of human milk. Those with additional interest should visit pollutionaction.org.
"More on Infant Feeding Posted on July 2, 2013 by Peter Morningstar
“’I don’t understand, I did everything right with this one…’ I’ve been twelve years in pediatrics and can’t say how many times I’ve heard frustration vented in this way when moms are talking about their children with significant and unexpected problems like autism, asthma, celiac, or mental health disorders. I hear it so consistently, and have become so conditioned, that my response line is coming out of me before I even have a chance to think it, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
“So what comprises “doing everything right”? Each list is different, but at the top of every one in the twenty first century is breast feeding for a prolonged period of time. In my own family we have two extremely, almost unnaturally, healthy adopted children who were bottle fed infants, and one biological child who breast fed for a year and has suffered from severe asthma and anxiety since then. We have always put it to our own inferior genetic stock. My sister also “did everything right”, which is to say nursed her kids for a painfully long time, and they both have asthma too. She once asked me whether I thought it was weird that all three of our genetic offspring have asthma even though neither of us or our spouses do. I allowed that it was weird.... It didn’t occur to me then that “doing everything right” might be wrong.
“Bring in now a paper dropped on my desk by a pediatrician colleague, from an organization called pollutionaction.org. The author of the site is an amateur toxicologist, and draws startling associations between the rise in breast feeding in the industrialized world, the proliferation of toxic chemicals, and the boom in childhood autism and cancer and other neurological and autoimmune disorders. He discloses that he has no stake in the formula business, and pulls all his data from published peer reviewed reports, and also acknowledges that association does not prove causation. Yet the associations are remarkable and certainly beg further study.
“To sum up, the states with the highest rates of breast feeding also have the highest rates of autism. The states with the lowest nursing rates have the lowest rates of autism. Both breast feeding rates and autism rates are significantly high among Caucasians, middling among Latinos, and low among African Americans. States with high breast feeding, and counties within a state (Utah) that have particularly high breast feeding, have particularly high rates of childhood cancer, even in the absence of obvious environmental triggers special to their area, and even as rates of adult cancer in the same areas are decreasing.
“Why should this all occur? The author cites data looking at exposure in breast feeding infants to modern world pernicious and pervasive toxins and carcinogens that are concentrated in breast milk, including dioxins, PCB’s and PDBE’s among others. It isn’t a pretty picture. Infants fed breast milk can have up to 86 times the EPA safe level for dioxins, have generally six times the exposure experienced by formula fed babies, and are assaulted with these man made poisons at a time when they are small and their brains and bodies are developing rapidly. Nursing seems to be detoxifying mothers, by transferring the chemicals to their 6-25 lb growing kids! Freaked out yet? I am.
“Again these are associations, and causation of the epidemic of autism, childhood cancer and emotional disorders by increased exposure to toxins and carcinogens, amplified by breast feeding, has not been established. But these associations do dampen my enthusiasm for promoting breast feeding, and this enthusiasm drain probably will remain until these questions have been addressed in formal studies, or until the trend of kids of parents who “do everything right” having an unnatural number of adverse outcomes reverses itself.
“………Having established that toxins bioaccumulate alarmingly in the yolk of the egg of the free ranging chicken, my thoughts turn to another source of concentrated fat rich nutrition, naturally grown by a free ranging host, the milk of the human breast. Pediatricians think about these things you know. Would the breast concentrate toxins in milk like a chicken does in it’s egg? Or would it filter them out like a salt marsh does with river water heading for the aquifer or the great big sea? Unfortunately, a breast is definitely like a chicken, not a salt marsh, and that quality can carry no possible upside for the recipient of human breast milk, the human baby. One startling study from New York showed a 70% reduction in dioxin forming toxins over two years in the fat of mothers breast feeding twins, leading to the inevitable question, where did it all go? Other studies have shown that dozens of fat soluble esters, alkyls, ethyls, and benzenes show up in volume in human milk, some from chemicals like DDT that haven’t been manufactured new for decades.
“This is not to say that breast feeding is bad, it’s rather to say that there may be some downside in addition to upside.”
(This blog was found 9/25/2014 at http://countrydocblog.com/page/15)
We have received e-mail correspondence from an Arkansas doctor who is also a scientist and also the mother of a child with autism. She wrote, “without looking yet at all the primary research you provide, I do believe you are telling the world a very uncomfortable truth about the state of our environment…. I think you are doing good work by publishing it and ultimately, parents will need to make their own decisions.” And also, “I have done months of research in the scientific literature as well as my own grassroots research with autism families to come up with my hypothesis. The only thing I have to say that might contradict your hypothesis is ….” The rest (mainly on the subject of possible insufficiency of breast milk for proper nourishment of an infant in the critical early-postnatal days) is too long to permit inclusion on this page. We encourage you to read it, at www.breastfeedingdifficulties.info/insufficiency.htm. She felt that her hypothesis might conflict with our position by indicating another possible cause of autism, other than the toxins in human milk. Actually, we have never said that toxins in breast milk are the only cause of autism, although it is understandable that somebody could read that implication into our publications.
On Mon, December 22, 2014 9:55 am, (a reader) wrote:
> Where can a 32 year old first time mother get her breast milk-evaluated so as to make a decision to breast feed her first born son. I'm thinkingshe should continue to use a Breast pump and dump practice to clean out built up toxins for her next pregnancy and start an organic formula now. The baby is 11 weeks. I don't want to sound like a historical mother-in-law. She lives in wiliamsburgh, Brooklyn. Your report makes great sense.
First, it's great that you're looking out for your grandchild. Parents are probably usually too busy to think carefully and research these matters, so they just succumb to the doctors' routine advice and the promotion of breastfeeding by various organizations, all of it totally one-sided.
After reading your email, I looked for quite a while on Google with a search for "having breast milk tested for toxins", and didn't come up with much that was helpful. I read about a couple of people (Florence Williams?) sending a sample out to a lab for testing -- I think most doctors' offices wouldn't be equipped to do the testing, but they may know about a lab to recommend. I have read that testing for presence of dioxins is very expensive; if you find a lab that says it tests for toxins, try to make sure they have expertise and equipment for testing for dioxins, or otherwise you'll get an incomplete report. But an incomplete report might be better than nothing.
Before paying for an analysis, think first about the best likely outcome, and what the parents would be likely to decide, on the basis of such an outcome. Even if her milk is only one-third as high as the average for dioxins, PCBs and mercury in breast milk, it would STILL be far higher than the safe levels for exposures to those toxins that have been established by government authorities. (See the introduction of www.autism-research.net/.) But the only hope for having levels that low would be if the mother were to be a long-standing vegetarian living out in the country, away from busy highways and other major transportation and industrial combustion sources, with nobody doing backyard burning upwind, and preferably without wood burning or wildfires in the area. (or, at least most of the above) (see www.pollutionaction.org/breastfeeding-and-autism-and-cancer.htm) In Brooklyn and age 32? Very unlikely. See the chart below, from a 2012 study, regarding the age part of it.
Then think about what went wrong for the mid-century generation (born through about the mid-1960's) that was mostly bottle fed. None of the epidemics and increases of autism, ADHD, diabetes, asthma, allergies, obesity, and childhood cancer that have become prominent since breastfeeding became increasingly common after the mid-1960's. Think about the more than 50 scientific studies that have found adverse effects of breastfeeding, that you never hear about except here or if you go to www.breastfeeding-studies.info.
Also think about the time that would pass while the milk is being tested. The mother would want to keep the milk flow going by continuing to breastfeed in the meantime. It is known that the brain’s development progresses in various stages, with “critical windows” taking place shortly after as well as before birth, when the development could be derailed by toxins. (see www.autism-research.net/postnatal-effects.htm). The infant’s brain’s development could be passing through a critical window while waiting for results to come back from the lab. Highly sensitive testing has found first signs of autism becoming apparent as soon as two months after birth, in which initially satisfactory development becomes suddenly derailed. (see the link just above)
Also, think about how effective the “pump and dump” process is likely to be. It takes a year of breastfeeding to reduce a mother’s breast milk dioxin levels from the initial 300 or so times the EPA-established safe level down to about (still) 20 times the safe level.* (Yes, the toxins are being “dumped” into the baby, which no doubt benefits the mother.) PBDEs apparently don’t decline at all during breastfeeding, because they keep coming into the mother’s body as fast as they are excreted in the breast milk. Pumping and dumping may help with lead, if her levels are high, but it wouldn’t help much with other toxins.
Sorry to be discouraging about something that you apparently feel should be done. Bear in mind that I have been presenting this case to thousands of doctors (in letters) and to many tens of thousands of readers on the internet for over two years, and have written several times to each of the doctors’ associations that promote breastfeeding and to many government officials in agencies that promote breastfeeding, always asking for comments on the accuracy of my statements, and nobody has ever pointed out anything inaccurate except for one minor case (which you can read about elsewhere in this Comments page). While on this page, look at the comments quoted from several doctors, which are essentially all of the comments I’ve received from doctors, and you’ll see that none of them seem to suggest testing breast milk for toxins or pumping and dumping.
Since you apparently are concerned about these matters, I encourage you to try to get some of your contemporaries to look into these matters on behalf of their grandchildren also.
Good luck with whatever you and the parents decide to do.
*- Infant Exposure to Dioxin-like Compounds in Breast Milk, Lorber (Senior Scientist at EPA) et al., VOL. 110 No. 6 June 2002, Environmental Health Perspectives http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=54708#Download. The numbers from that article should be seen together with RfD information for dioxin from the EPA, at www.epa.gov/iris/supdocs/dioxinv1sup.pdf in section 4.3.5, at end of that section, "...the resulting RfD in standard units is 7 × 10−10 mg/kg-day." (that is, O.7 pg TEQ/kg-d)
Dr. L. from Maine wrote:
I lose interest in your argument when you criticize conclusions based upon observational studies by using observational studies yourself.
Life seems a risk to me; we are not is as much control as we imagine.
Because your agenda is muddled and unclear, I am apt to mistrust you.
Lastly, are you working towards limits on the release of these known
dangerous, and potentially dangerous chemicals into the environment?
Hello Dr. L:
It seems to me that, if the promoters of breastfeeding base their position on a certain kind of support (observational studies), I ought to be able to respond in kind, especially if that is only PART of my response (see below). Also, I never said observational studies are useless -- they can shed some light IF the authors acknowledge the major uncertainties caused by possible confounders: the often-unacknowledged but possibly REAL, underlying causes of the “associations” that are found. That appears not to have been done properly (if at all) in the studies finding beneficial effects of breastfeeding. I identified some undisputed (but usually un-acknowledged) confounders in the cases of the observational studies that found benefits of breastfeeding -- mothers who breastfeed in the countries where the studies were done are, without question, far more likely to be of higher socio-economic status and non-smokers and therefore to provide better genes and home environments, nutrition, medical care, etc. Nobody has pointed out confounders that would detract from the observational studies I cite that have found adverse effects of breastfeeding. (See www.breastfeeding-studies.info and www.breastfeeding-vs-formula.info for my latest compilations.)
Also, my position is based on far more than observational studies. The first web page linked just above contains a major randomized, controlled trial and a sibling study (in the obesity section) and two very large-scale epidemiological studies (in the autism section) all of which should be able to avoid the weaknesses of typical observational studies. Also, I’m pretty sure that most of the information I provide that is taken from government agencies (EPA, NIH, CDC, ATSDR, etc.), about levels of developmental toxins in breast milk vs. those in infant formula, was not based on studies that could be categorized as observational. (See www.autism-origins.info for a brief summation of major examples of that authoritatively-based information.)
Since you ask me to present my agenda, I would state it as follows: To prevent thousands of children from being impaired for life by developmental toxins that, according to many impeccable, undisputed sources, are present in hazardous concentrations in breast milk and in very low concentrations in infant formula.
In my many years of presenting my case to tens of thousands of medical professionals (by letter) and to hundreds of thousands of readers of my websites from all over the world, almost always requesting readers’ comments, nobody has disputed the accuracy of my statements on this topic. (borderline exception: A Mormon informed me of the incorrectness of my early statement that the Mormon Church promotes breastfeeding; my statement had been correct according to two different pages at the Church’s website (www.lds.org) several months earlier, but that had changed by the time she wrote me, so I corrected that.)
You say, “I agree that the public health statement from many organizations is clearly in favor of breastfeeding, minimizing the bio accumulation of toxins. I would be interested to know the rationale behind that decision if I am to make an educated decision.” I, too, was very much interested in the rationale(s) of the organizations that promote breastfeeding despite the known presence of developmental toxins. So I wrote to several of them, especially the U.S doctors’ associations (AAP, AAFP, ACOG) and WHO, asking how they had determined that the toxins in human milk were not having harmful effects on children that might outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding. For quite a while I was anticipating reasoned responses from those organizations, presumably based on comparative analysis of evidence on both sides of the question. But the months wore on without a reply, and then still more months passed without a single response to my follow-up letters. I put that together with the extreme imbalance in their public communications about breastfeeding, on a topic about which there are serious negatives that they don’t dispute but about which they say essentially nothing. It became clear to me that their promotion of breastfeeding is based on what they want to be true rather than on a rational consideration of all of the evidence. That was the turning point for me. Those people are promoting an infant feeding that undisputedly contains high levels of developmental toxins, while there are ongoing, unexplained epidemics of childhood diseases that have arisen since that kind of feeding went from unusual to dominant. But those promoters are unable to respond to perfectly reasonable questioning of that policy.
So anyway, I fully identify with your interest in those organizations’ rationales for promoting breastfeeding despite the known high levels of toxins, but I’ve given up asking them. I encourage you to try to get a response from them on this topic. If you don’t receive a well-considered response, what will you think of their promotion of an infant feeding that is known to be high in toxins?
In response to your last question, no, I am not working toward reduction of these toxins in the environment. The EPA, with its many billions of dollars and the full force of the United States government behind it, is making only gradual headway in that effort, and I don’t see how I can contribute significantly to that effort. Especially because the toxic emissions that seem to be most closely related to autism (mercury, although not the ethyl mercury that was in vaccines) typically pass around the world before coming back down to ground level. We have little leverage on China and other emerging nations, especially since reducing emissions requires sacrifices. Other developmental toxins such as dioxins and PBDEs are products of diesel exhaust and/or dust emissions from fire retardants that are already embedded in home furnishings and electronic devices; how rapidly can we reduce those? PCBs were banned from most manufacturing in the 1970’s, but they are still heavily present in the environment and in breast milk. The EPA calls them “persistent” for good reason. Breast milk will contain toxins at high levels for decades to come regardless of what is done. But in the meantime, new cases of lifetime impairment of many children by means of ingesting those toxins COULD be reduced quickly if parents and their medical advisors were simply to become aware of the full range of contents of human milk, about which most presently know nothing. That is something that I CAN do something about. My plate is already full in that effort, without my trying to add some drops to a different bucket that is already being carried by the powerful and that can’t accomplish much for the near term anyway.
Thanks very much for your wish of good luck, despite your obvious misgivings about my effort.
Q: On Fri, April 26, 2013 6:49 pm, Karina wrote:
> I am wondering if you are aware of the specific babies who are autistic despite exclusive and full term breastfeeding. I believe that autism is partially caused by formula and cow milk given to babies before the age of six months which their intestines are not yet able to handle. I am unaware of any babies with autism who were not at least partially formula fed before the age of six months.
A: You can see statements we've quoted from a blog in another website, quoting many mothers of autistic children who say they never gave their infants formula: go to www.pollutionaction.org/autismspeaksblog.htm.
Also, from a blog, www.mothering.com/community/t/1386763/very-upseting-propaganda, you can read comments including the following:
"I exclusively breastfed 4 children, weaning them between 13-24 months. All four of these children have problems ranging from ADHD to SPD to Autism, conditions that biomedical resources say are likely genetic triggered by environmental toxins. When I look back over their lives to try to piece the puzzle together, you better believe I am willing to look at their infant feeding with a critical eye, of which my breastmilk was a significant part. I am not saying that I am convinced that toxins in my breastmilk impacted them or caused their issues, but I am willing to swallow my AP pride and look at it as objectively as I can. My 5th child was formula fed due to low supply and food intolerance. I notice as he approaches 2 that he is different from his siblings in noticeable ways. He has better eye contact, he's been less sick, he sleeps better, and he seems much more even tempered. He is the only child I have without sensory issues.
Now is this due to the fact that he had formula instead of breastmilk? I have no idea, but again, I am willing to look at it, and at least consider that as part of the puzzle. I think we do a disservice to our kids and ourselves if we hold so tightly to certain ideals that we are unwilling to consider contrary evidence."
Also in that mother's post: "I am sorry that this upset you, but this research is out there and this is the not the first time I have read these studies. For every study that shows the benefits of breastmilk, there are other less published and less well-known studies that show no difference or even the opposite. The fact is that our food, air and water supply are contaminated. The human body has toxins in it from all these contaminants, as well as all the crap we put on our bodies from lotions, shampoos, deodorants, etc. Have you ever looked at Skin Deep by the Environmental Working Group? … A newborns only source of anything at that point (after birth) has been his mother. Breastmilk is made from the contents of a woman's blood. If there are contaminants in a woman's body there will be contaminants in breastmilk. Its not a stretch in my mind that this could have potential health effects.
"Articles like this are a wake up call to me that it is crucial we detoxify our bodies, homes, and environment! I am much more angry at big oil and agribusiness that I am at this man for posting what may or may not be good science (though the article does look to be well sited). Doesn't mean that we stop breastfeeding, but perhaps that we look long and hard at what we are doing to ourselves as a species that would make these concerns even a possibility." And in a later post, "My posts here are just to help people see past this guys "crazy" approach and see that the issue of toxins in our bodies and the possible side effects of that are worth looking into. To realize that our modern choices are having real, long lasting effects that aren't easily remedied. In some of the studies they discuss how these fat soluble toxins are excreted during breastfeeding because that is one of the only routes out of the body. Otherwise, they just sit there and build up. The older a woman is the more of these toxins are in her body. The more children she's breastfed the less that is in her body. Where did it go? It became part of her child's body burden. These things just don't go away, and we don't just pee out dioxins, PCB's and the residue from that Teflon pan we've been meaning to through out. For those of us with daughters (not me, lol) we need to be very aware of their toxic load, knowing that someday when they bear and suckle children that their body burdens will in part be passed on to their infants, along with all the other wonderful stuff. I wish someone had told me this 20 years ago. I wish they had talked about it at WIC when I was 21 and having my first baby. Its unpleasant, but its information that is vital to a young woman having choices about how she lives, raises, and feeds her children. It is vital for women like me with older children who are struggling to have information as to the possible roots of it all. I don't want the breastfeeding advocacy movement to become like the big corporations and govt depts that filter what we know about our food and energy sources. That would just feel like the worst hypocrisy to me."
Also, a posting from another mother on that same thread: "I am not overly impressed by footnotes. The several I checked seemed authentic. I didn't obviously check them all since there are gobs of them….
"He may draw some extreme conclusions, but the fact is that evidence exists that there are toxins in human breastmilk at many times higher than is considered safe, and that the blood levels of these toxins are higher in breastmilk fed children than formula fed children. What does that mean for human health - we don't know. I am worried about it. I agree cows have their own host of problems (watch any food documentaries lately? The farm animal industry is a toxin nightmare!) However, the toxins in question are fat soluble and formula only uses the milk protein not the milk fat. Fats in formula are vegetable based such as coconut, palm, and sunflower oil. Perhaps that is why certain toxins are less in FF infants. <<Editor's note: Yes, most of the toxins are fat soluble and gravitate to animal fat, which is skimmed off and replaced with vegetable fats in the making of infant formula; the result is that, as reported in a major document of the American Academy of Pediatrics published in 2012 (Pediatric Environmental Health, 3rd Edition, AAP, 2012, p. 200), referring to most of the toxins of concern in breast milk, "Infant formula is free of these residues...." For other information from authoritative sources comparing levels of toxins in human milk with those in infant formula, see Section 3 of http://www.pollution-effects.info/.>>
Continuing from the same mother, "It's uncomfortable but personally I am willing to consider the idea that breastmilk that is highly polluted with environmental toxins might be potentially more dangerous to infant health than an organic based formula. I am willing to examine evidence on all sides, as well my own children's response to breastfeeding and my personal life/habits/diet/environment in the most open way I am able. I would rather allow myself to feel alarmed and angry and take action to clean up my life/habits/diet/environment so that the milk of future generations can be safe than curl up with the latest LLL book and pacify my fears. Yet even LLL has information on the subject if you are willing to look a little deeper.
La Leche League:
"Humans store environmental contaminants in their fat tissues over their lifetime, and at least 60 percent of the fat in milk-globules is drawn from reserves scattered throughout the mother's body. Hence, human milk carries with it the chemicals the mother has been exposed to and stored her whole life…. Particularly worrisome are the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) including DDT, PCBs, and dioxins, which remain in the environment for years." <She then provided a link to the source page on the LLL website, which no longer works.>
Again, the above postings were found on the "Mothering.com" website at
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
We have received some e-mails that have not pointed out inaccuracies in contents of this paper but which are of interest, and we have responded to most of them, with those inquiries and responses entered below.
Q: Dr. Jack Hinkle from Louisiana and another reader suggested that we also consider lack of vitamin D as a possible cause of autism. Our response:
A: Yes, Vitamin D certainly seems to be a logical concern, especially considering that in recent decades people have been getting less sun exposure, while disorders have been increasing. But it's hard to tell whether it's Vitamin D or other effects of sunlight. Vitamin D doesn't explain things like why more-highly-educated people are much more likely to have autistic children (they do breastfeed much more) and why first-born babies are far more likely to be autistic than later-born (the mother's lifetime accumulation of toxins are reduced with each succeeding period of breastfeeding.)
So I feel I have some pretty substantial material to work with already, especially with the finding by a highly-published scientist (after studying data from all 50 states and 51 U.S. counties) that autism is closely correlated with breastfeeding, and that the greater the amount of breastfeeding, the greater the correlation; and considering that the Norwegian University of Science and Technology says its researchers have found that most of the claims of benefits of breastfeeding have had the legs cut out from under them. (That one is rather significant since Norway has long been at the very top level of the world's countries in breastfeeding rates.-- see that in www.breastfeedingprosandcons.info)
(From E.B., who reports that she is a lactation consultant in training):
Dear Mr. Meulenberg,
I was stunned by your approach to breastfeeding. Bunch of studies are mentioned throughout your article that seemingly take into consideration the factor of breastfeeding or the lack of, and then the conclusion is drawn that breastfeeding compared to formula is detrimental to a child's health.
In response to the questions addressed to the promoters of breastfeeding, here are my thoughts:
(The remainder of her email is contained below together with my responses at the end of each thought.)
You say, “If breastmilk is contaminated, it means that we are all contaminated.”
A: Well, sort of, but in very different degrees. Two leading experts on toxins involved in child development (Grandjean and Landrigan, possibly THE two leading experts) have said, “Persistent lipophilic substances, including specific pesticides and halogenated industrial compounds, such as PCBs, accumulate in maternal adipose tissue and are passed on to the infant via breast milk, resulting in infant exposure that exceeds the mother’s own exposure by 100-fold on the basis of bodyweight.” (1) For results of many relevant studies, indicating that various toxins are concentrated in the breastfed infant in far higher concentrations than in the mother or in formula-fed infants, see www.breastfeeding-toxins.info.
You say: “Thus we should all consider fighting against pollution and avoid pollutants to the best of our ability. We should try to control the environment, our lifestyles, our own diet,”
You: “but we should not deprive a baby from the best combination of nutrients, enzymes, and disease fighting agents, that are optimal for his growth and development.”
A: How do you know that effects of the undisputed high levels of developmental toxins in breast milk, far exceeding established safe levels according to impeccable authority (2), are not having effects that outweigh the benefits of the nutrients, enzymes, etc.? Sorry, I realize that’s a tough one to answer. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and WHO have never even tried to respond to that question from me, after I’ve sent it in at least three letters to each. If the authorities who are at the foundation of breastfeeding recommendations can’t answer that question, does that have any significance to you?
Regarding the disease-fighting agents, there’s no doubt that the immune cells in human milk fight infection during breastfeeding and for several months afterward. But what about the long-term effects on the immune system of possibly not having the challenges that are widely considered to be necessary for proper development of immunity? There’s no doubt that the immune cells from breast milk promoted infant survival during over 99% of human history, before modern sanitation came into existence. But that was then. It seems to be well accepted that the immune system requires challenges in order to develop well. Vaccines work by causing challenges that result in development of the child’s own immune system; they don’t work by pumping in disease-fighting cells from the outside -- those cells would die after several months. To read about the “hygiene hypothesis” or “microbial-deprivation” hypothesis that should apply in this matter, go to www.breastfeeding-research.info/hygiene-hypothesis.htm.
You: “In regards to the studies that concluded that the four childhood epidemics correlate with the increase of breastfeeding since the 1950s, how about considering the following: -air pollution and environmental exposure to chemicals has exponentially increased indeed over the last decades?"
A: It’s actually a mixed bag. According to the EPA, air pollution has been reduced by 70 percent in the last four decades or so; percentages of children living where water or air quality standards were not met have been declining in recent decades; and there have been huge declines in lead both in the environment and in children's blood levels of lead. (see Figure 7 and following material at www.breastfeedingnegatives.info) Another environmental risk factor, parental smoking, has declined greatly. It is true that there have been many new chemicals in the environment in recent decades. PBDEs are the one that stands out as both having increased greatly in recent decades and having been associated in multiple studies with symptoms of one of the major epidemics or increases (ADHD). In the only study quoted by the EPA making such a comparison, based on measurements of 244 children, the average total concentration of PBDEs in breastfed children at age four was still nearly three times as high (3.6 ng/g lwt) as in formula-fed children (1.3 ng/g lwt).(3) This is actually as should be expected, judging by the differences in PBDE concentrations found in infant formula vs. in breast milk -- over 30 to 1.(4) The only other two toxins that seem to be known to reach developing brains in concentrations greatly exceeding established safe levels are mercury and dioxins (including dioxins’ chemical relatives, PCBs); both are less than 1% as high in infant formula as in human milk.(5)
So, yes, there have been increases -- as well as decreases -- of many toxins in the environment. But there is excellent evidence that the toxins reach developing infants in hazardous concentrations only after becoming concentrated by the process of lactation before being ingested by the infant.
You: - Is breastmilk the only way an infant could be exposed to toxins? Not at all, e.g. breathing, licking objects, being around radiating materials of which we have plenty around us…
A: A Taiwanese study found that, of the three sources of infant mercury exposure, ingestion (breast milk), inhalation, and dermal exposure, 96 to 99.6% of the total mercury exposure was from breastfeeding. (see footnote 32 in www.breastfeeding-toxins.info). The EPA points out that about 90% of human intake of dioxins is via food, even though dioxins are also known to be present in air, soil and dust. There have been several studies over the years finding dramatically increased PCB and dioxins levels in breastfed children compared with non-breastfed or less-breastfed children. One published just recently (over 30 years after PCBs were banned from most manufacturing) showed PCB levels in 45-month-old children to be at 19 ng/g lipid for non-breastfed children, whereas breastfed children of the same age had levels of 60, 180, 309 and 365 (increasing in steps according to duration of breastfeeding, in 6-month intervals up to 19 months-plus).(6) So, yes, it’s true that breast milk isn’t the only way an infant can be exposed to toxins. But it appears to be the source of the overwhelming preponderance of intake of developmental toxins.
You: “We all, including young babies ingest pesticides, and hormones, and bunch of artificial colorants, sweeteners, acids, preservatives, and God knows what else we don't know of that can negatively alter our health.”
A: Yes, we all have exposures to the same pollutants, but only infants ingest them in highly-concentrated form. Remember from above the expert statement that toxins become accumulated in mother’s adipose tissue and “are passed on to the infant via breast milk, resulting in infant exposure that exceeds the mother’s own exposure by 100-fold on the basis of bodyweight.” And remember from above the health data pointing out the vastly higher concentrations of known developmental toxins in breast milk vs. in formula.
You: “-you mentioned that higher educated people (who do breastfeed more) tend to have more autistic children. How about considering the fact that more highly educated people spend half their life focusing on their education and building their career, and then when they are around 40yrs old, they decide to settle down and establish a family. Advanced parental age has been linked to health problems in children, specifically increased paternal age is thought to contribute to autistic disorders.”
A: That’s a good point. But there’s no question that older women’s breast milk has far higher concentrations of developmental toxins (which accumulate through the years) than the milk of younger women. (see bar chart earlier)
You: “some people are more likely to develop health problems than others, and usually it's more than one contributing factor.”
A: Very true. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore findings in studies that, for instance, autism is far higher among breastfed children than in the general population,(7a) or the scores of studies finding other adverse effects of breastfeeding (see www.breastfeeding-studies.info), or the considerable amount of undisputed, authoritative information indicating far higher levels of developmental toxins in human milk than in alternatives.
You -- quote from a publication quoted by the La Leche League, “10 Simple Steps to Help Reduce the Level of Chemicals in Your Body”
A: Those are all great instructions, but it must be born in mind that most of those things must be done many years before breastfeeding in order to have a good chance that the milk will be improved; alcohol doesn’t accumulate in the body, but most of the other toxins do. Those toxins are called “bio-accumulative” and "persistent" for good reasons. You can confirm on the websites of the EPA and NIH that the main toxins of concern (dioxins, PCBs, PBDEs and mercury) build up in the body over years. I notice that one has to search hard on the La Leche League website to find that listing of 10 simple steps that you refer to; their “Breastfeeding Answers” section shows links on 94 topics, and that list of ten steps is below the footnotes at the very bottom of an article found by going to one of those 94 links. The La Leche League probably realizes that very few women would actually do those things and would instead be discouraged from breastfeeding by reading that they are advised to practice those ten steps in order to produce non-toxic milk.
Also, bear in mind that a major 2013 study found that autism rates correlated well with mothers’ just living in locations where there were elevated levels of diesel emissions and heavy metals in the air.(8) The emissions are inhaled by the mother and the toxins are built up in the body over the years before being excreted in highly concentrated form to the infant. How many women living in high-traffic or other urban or industrial areas or downwind from power plants are going to be able to move to a low-pollution area years ahead of breastfeeding? And how many women would even be aware of those “10 simple steps,” much less follow them, much less follow them years before breastfeeding, in order to be able to produce good-quality milk? There is something to be said for being realistic, and for offering infant-feeding recommendations that would result in most infants’ not being fed developmental toxins in hazardous concentrations. Especially if there is an alternative feeding that served well for Americans born in the 1960's, for whom breastfeeding was the exception; their health outcomes have been better than those of people born before or since then (see http://www.pollutionaction.org/shorter-lives.htm).
You: “Have I known one single person that is autistic or has adhd back home?” (home country where breastfeeding was the norm) “Not one.”
A: You didn’t say where “back home” was, but it was very likely a country where sources of environmental toxins are minor compared to what they are in typical industrialized countries: traffic, other intense and widespread toxin-emitting combustion sources, all kinds of industrial pollution, and dust emitted from (legally-required) fire retardants in home furnishings and electronics, all of which become concentrated before being excreted to the breastfed infant.. The main problem with breast milk in the U.S. and other developed countries isn’t inherent in the milk, it’s the fact that toxins are taken in from the environment at moderate levels, accumulate in fat in the woman’s body, and are later excreted to the infant in greatly concentrated form.
Tue, February 10, 2015 11:19 am, a reader wrote:
> Thanks for the work you've done. Is there ongoing toxin exposure for children that may contribute to autism once a breastfed baby grows/develops, as pump is already primed?
A: The brain continues to grow and develop through early adulthood, although much more slowly than during infancy, so effects of toxins could still be significant, but usually not nearly as great as during infancy. The same toxins that are suspects in breast milk would be toxic later also, and are also widespread in the environment. Pica (eating non-food substances, such as soil and paint chips) and chewing/sucking on plastic bags are both potent sources of toxins and especially to be avoided. Foods that contain animal fats, including dairy products containing fat, as well as most fish above small size, are also high in toxins that should be kept to a minimum (but salmon is usually reported to be fairly low in mercury, unlike most larger fish). But fish does contain good nutrients for the brain. Vehicle emissions are to be avoided as much as possible (including from school buses -- get drivers to avoid unnecessary idling).
Q: Two readers have requested evidence concerning how toxins in formula or cows' milk compare with those in breast milk.
A: 1) A study in the Netherlands found that, at 42 months of age, the median plasma PCB levels of children who had been breastfed for at least 6 weeks were 4½ times as high as those of children who had been formula-fed. (ATSDR (U.S. Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry) Public Health Statement for Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), November 2000, Balfanz et al. 1993; MacLeod 1981; Wallace et al. 1996, p. 569)
2) According to an EPA report, providing estimates for typical exposure in the U.S. based on EPA data but also drawing on studies of populations in Germany (two studies), Britain and the Netherlands, "Breast-feeding for 6 months or more is predicted to result in an accumulated (dioxin) exposure 6 times higher than a formula-fed infant during the infant's first year of life.” (Infant Exposure to Dioxin-like Compounds in Breast Milk, Lorber and Phillips Volume 110 | Number 6 | June 2002 • Environmental Health Perspectives http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=54708#Download Also EPA Home/Research/Environmental Assessment: An Evaluation of Infant Exposure to Dioxin-Like Compounds in Breast Milk, Matthew Lorber (National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) et al.
3) A German study found that intake of dioxins was up to 50 times higher in breast-fed infants compared with formula-fed, and also that high proportions of the dioxins were intestinally absorbed by the breastfed infants. At 11 months of age, the dioxin toxicity-equivalent concentrations in the formula-fed infants were about 10 times lower than in the infants that were breast-fed for six to seven months. (Abraham et al., Intake, fecal excretion, and body burden of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans in breast-fed and formula-fed infants, Pediatric Research, 1996, at https://www.nature.com/articles/pr19962945) This study was cited in a 2002 EPA document that apparently considered it to be fully valid. (Infant Exposure to Dioxin-like Compounds in Breast Milk Lorber and Phillips Volume 110 | Number 6 | June 2002 • Environmental Health Perspectives http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=54708#Download
4) PCB levels in children who had been breastfed for at least 12 weeks were still over twice as high as in bottle-fed children at 7 years of age, in an American/German study. (Pediatric Research (2001) 50, 331–336; doi:10.1203/00006450-200109000-00007 Early Childhood Determinants of Organochlorine Concentrations in School-Aged Children, Wilfried Karmaus et al.
The reader is also encouraged to look at www.breastfeeding-toxins.info for a large listing of hazardous chemicals found in breast milk, which are known to be ingested by mothers either by occupational exposure or from exposure to toxins in personal care and cleaning products, pesticides, dry cleaning chemical residue, household chemicals, paints, etc., or in either normal mood-altering medications or drugs of abuse, before being transmitted in breast milk. It doesn't require much thought to realize that typical cows do not have significant exposures to occupational and household chemicals and mood-altering drugs, such as women have. The above website also contains comparative information about toxin concentrations in breast milk vs. in infant formula as regards a wide range of toxins that are not discussed here, including lead and perchlorate
Mercury (another of the "persistent, bio-accumulative toxins" that increase greatly with each step up the food chain) would clearly accumulate more in humans who eat fish (that major dietary source of mercury) and who have the typical (half-mercury) dental amalgam fillings, compared with accumulations in cows.
Comparison with another alternative source of infant exposure to toxins:
According to what is apparently the most thorough study on the subject of infant absorption of toxins from mother's milk vs. from fetal absorption, much higher doses of organochlorine compounds (from 10 to 20 times higher) penetrate the infant's body via the milk than via the transplacental route. (Jensen, A.A. et al, Chemical Contaminants in Human Milk, CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, Ann Arbor, Boston, 1991. Findings like the above were confirmed in animal tests, with even greater contrasts. (in Ahlborg et al., Risk Assessment of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen. Report NORD 1992; 26 ) Note that PCBs and dioxins are included among organochlorine compounds, and PBDEs are related.
Q: A reader asked for advice about choosing an infant formula:
A: The only thing I know about what makes a good formula is negative reports about soy-based formula -- apparently it contains estrogenic compounds, so it should probably only be a last resort, in cases of lactose intolerance. Also, organic is helpful, and the USDA "Organic" label apparently does mean something.
We appreciate your comments. We want these writings to be as accurate and as well based on reliable sources as possible, and we value your assistance in that regard. However, if your comments consist of absurd generalities ("It's all untrue!"), they are not likely to be seriously considered. Please try to think about these matters rationally and be specific about any passages of text that you believe are not accurately based on authoritative sources (after checking the references that are cited).
Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .
(1) Grandjean P, Landrigan PJ. Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals. Lancet. 2006;368:2167–2178. at
(2) see www.autism-origins.info for authoritative sources
(5) for authoritative sources, see Appendix B at the link just above.
(6) Jusko et al., Prenatal and Postnatal Serum PCB Concentrations and Cochlear Function in Children at 45 Months of Age, Environmental Health Perspectives, 22 July 2014 (Advance Pub.), Table 1 cont., at http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2014/7/ehp.1307473.pdf
(7) Jones et al., Attention to eyes is present but in decline in 2-6-month-old infants later diagnosed with autism: Nature:(2013) DOI:doi:10.1038/nature at www.pediatrics.emory.edu/documents/divisions/autism/Jones_Klin_2013.pdf
(8) Roberts et al., "Perinatal Air Pollutant Exposures and Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Children of Nurses’ Health Study II Participants," (Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1206187 online at http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1206187)
*To return or go to the Pollution Action home page and the listing of our many other publications, or to read about Pollution Action, go to www.pollutionaction.org.