Environmental Health: Chemicals in Breast Milk

5 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008

See all articles by Andrea Larson

Andrea Larson

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Abstract

Although breast milk is recognized by doctors, public health officials, and scientists as the best first food for an infant, it is not pure. Many synthetic chemicals released into the environment, intentionally or not, can be found in breast milk. Chemicals such as famous “bad actors” like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), as well as less well-known substances such as flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs), have been detected in human breast milk around the world. Many of those synthetic chemicals are known or suspected causes of cancer, and they have been linked to other health problems such as diabetes, reproductive disorders, and impaired brain development. The health benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the possible negative effects of chemical contaminants in breast milk, but the presence of those chemicals remains a cause for concern among health officials, individuals, and the companies whose products or manufacturing process release toxins into our environment.

Excerpt

UVA-ENT-0078

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: CHEMICALS IN BREAST MILK

Breastfeeding advocates often refer to breast milk as “liquid gold.” Besides the direct benefit of feeding a growing baby, breast milk contains antibodies to protect infants from disease, nutrients to support organ development, and enzymes to aid digestion. Research has shown that the unique composition of human milk enhances brain development and lowers the risk and severity of a variety of serious childhood illnesses and chronic diseases, including diarrhea, lower respiratory infection, bacterial meningitis, urinary tract infections, lymphoma, and digestive diseases. There are also significant benefits to women who breastfeed, such as reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.

Although breast milk is recognized by doctors, public health officials, and scientists as the best first food for an infant, it is not pure. Many synthetic chemicals released into the environment, intentionally or not, can be found in breast milk. Chemicals such as famous “bad actors” like dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), as well as less well-known substances such as flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs), have been detected in human breast milk around the world. Many of those synthetic chemicals are known or suspected causes of cancer, and they have been linked to other health problems such as diabetes, reproductive disorders, and impaired brain development. The health benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the possible negative effects of chemical contaminants in breast milk, but the presence of those chemicals remains a cause for concern.

. . .

Keywords: health, manufacturing toxins ethics environment entrepreneurship, innovation

Suggested Citation

Larson, Andrea, Environmental Health: Chemicals in Breast Milk. Darden Case No. UVA-ENT-0078. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1278397

Andrea Larson (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/faculty/larson.htm

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