Breast milk is regarded as the best source of nutrition for a newborn. However, a new study has revealed that exclusive breastfeeding for a long time may also expose infants to a class of industrial chemicals linked with cancer and immune system dysfunction. The findings suggest that the chemicals, perfluorinated alkylate substances, or PFASs, appear to build up in infants by 20-30% for each month they are breastfed.
PFASs are used to make products resistant to water, grease and stains. These compounds tend to bioaccumulate in food chains and are found regularly in the blood of animals and humans worldwide. They have been linked with reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption and immune system dysfunction.
Researcher Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, US, said, "There is no reason to discourage breastfeeding, but we are concerned that these pollutants are transferred to the next generation at a very vulnerable age. 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."
For the study, the research team followed 81 children who were born in the Faroe Islands between 1997-2000, looking at levels of five types of PFASs in their blood at birth and ages 11 months, 18 months, and five years. In children who were exclusively breastfed, PFAS concentrations in the blood increased by roughly 20-30% each month, with lower increases among children who were partially breastfed. It was observed that after breastfeeding was stopped, concentrations of all of five types of PFASs decreased.
The study appeared online in Environmental Science and Technology.