A Needless Worry Concerning Breast Milk

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The Jan. 20 article in the Health Journal, "Toxins in Breast Milk," conveys unscientific assumptions that will needlessly alarm many members of the public, especially women who plan to breast feed. The assertion that a study subject's body "carried 105 chemicals in measurable levels" is meaningless on its face. We all have thousands of "chemicals" in our bodies, both natural and synthetic. Why was the discussion centered on synthetic, to the exclusion of natural chemicals? Probably because only such chemicals are tested on animals (generally rats) for carcinogenicity at high doses and over prolonged periods. But many natural chemicals, found in our commonly eaten foods, are just as carcinogenic as synthetic ones when used in animal tests. Any substance can be toxic when used in excessive doses. Rats are not little people.

As our ability to measure minute amounts of substances becomes more sophisticated, we can measure compounds at a level of parts per trillion and lower -- would these amounts be called "measurable"? In years to come, quantitative analysis will be able to find anything in everyone, but still we get healthier and live longer.

As for breast milk, it is in physiological equilibrium with our other bodily fluids, and thus has the same chemicals (although at different concentrations) as our blood. Many studies have attempted to link some chemical or another to breast cancer . . . without success. While your article notes that "as many as half of the breast cancer cases" remain unexplained, the same is true of all other cancers, excepting those caused by smoking.

Lastly, while tissue levels of PBDEs may be increasing, before blindly banning flame-retardant PBDEs, I would ask: 1. Is there any evidence that they are associated with any known disease? 2. Does using this effective flame-retardant save lives? and 3. Is there an alternative that is as effective and safer (although how anything can be safer than something that has not been shown to pose a hazard is problematic)?

Gilbert Ross M.D.
Medical Director
American Council on Science and Health
New York