Sunday, February 24, 2013

Breast Milk Banks - Proceed With Caution

There's nothing better for a newborn baby than mother's milk. That's a given. But what if you can't produce milk on your own? This happens sometimes with the mothers of premature babies. Their bodies aren't ready yet to produce milk if baby is born too early. What can a mom do if, for whatever reason, they can't breast feed their own child?

A new solution trending throughout the country is the Breast Milk Bank. Just this week there was an article in the news about the first breast milk bank now open in Miami. So what, exactly, is a breast milk bank? Essentially, it is a collection and distribution center. On its face, it seems like a good idea. Mom's who are able to produce an abundance of breast milk donate to the bank, and moms who cannot produce draw from the bank.

But, as with everything, it pays to look past the face. As I thought about this concept, a couple problems jumped out at me almost immediately-- milk quality, and (the bane of all milk products) pasteurization.

We'll start with pasteurization. All milk banks pasteurize the milk donations before they freeze them. The reason they pasteurize is to eliminate any pathogens that may be lurking in the milk-- because, no matter how well they screen the donors, germs will be germs. So, why is pasteurization a problem? Because, simply put, it harms the nutritional value of milk. Heat pasteurization damages vitamins and destroys lipase, an important enzyme that assists in breaking down fat in the human digestive system. Babies fed pasteurized breast milk do not thrive at the save level as naturally breast-fed infants.

The second problem is quality assurance. While milk banks do screen their donors, they cannot screen for every potentially harmful contaminant. Donor screening seeks to eliminate such things as "regular" use of medications or herbal supplements, but allows insulin and other hormone replacement drugs as well as nasal sprays, asthma inhalers and other "exceptions." They require a blood screening, and possibly DNA samples, but rely heavily on the honesty of the donor's application responses. There's really no way to control the quality of the donor milk once collection begins.

The argument has been made that a donor mother is also feeding a child of her own, and so will most likely be careful about the milk she produces. Does that instill confidence in YOU? It makes sense on the surface, but I'm afraid I've read too many stories of drug and alcohol babies. An extreme example, I admit...but a clear illustration that mom's don't always do what's best for their children. What about the mom who drinks a pot of coffee every day or has a couple glasses of wine (the donor limit is two ounces a day)? And then there are the less-obvious but equally concerning pollutants that find their way into breast milk through diet, such as soy components and chemical residues from processed foods.  And then there's mercury. A 1994 government publication found higher levels of mercury in the breast milk of mothers who ate a diet high in fish. Infants with a rapidly developing neurological system and an underdeveloped immune system are significantly more at risk of mercury toxicity than adults or even older children. Mercury is also a component in vaccines-- including the flu vaccine. Does the donor mom have a mouth full of amalgam fillings? These are a constant source of mercury contamination in her milk. Does the donor screening ask about whether or not the donor has recently had a flu shot or eats a diet high in fish or has a mouth full of amalgam fillings? Do they care?

Another option for a mother who wants breast milk for her baby but cannot provide it is the worldwide web. It seems you can buy absolutely anything online. The risks of buying breast milk online should be self-evident...but just in case you're still scratching your head, picture this:  Welfare mothers looking for cash. What you get will not be pasteurized...but in this case, pasteurization may be the lesser of two evils. I'm not saying this is the profile of online milk suppliers, but do you know?

So, what am I saying?...whatever you do, stay away from somebody else's breast milk? Not necessarily. If you are weighing the life of a precious child against the risk they may not get all their vitamins-- the choice is clear. And thank God for breast milk banks.

There is one more option -- milk swapping. Milk swapping is more local...kind of like knowing your farmer. It is women within the same community helping one another. Even in this case, it pays to be cautious, but when you can look your donor in the face or call them on the phone and ask them very specific questions, the chances of knowing what you're getting increases dramatically. And the milk is not destroyed by pasteurization.

All things carry some degree of risk. The best solution is to nurse your own child if you can.  But frankly--unless you're the epitome of healthiness, even that has risk for all the same reasons given above. You're never going to entirely avoid risk. But if you must consider milk from another mom, do your homework and proceed with caution. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Heart Truth

Check out Coke's newest propaganda ad.

Apparently February is "American Heart Health" month... apropos, considering the Valentine theme. So Diet Coke brand is partnering with The Heart Truth organization to help bring about awareness of women's heart health issues. It seems heart disease is the #1 killer of women -- not breast cancer. And of course, like a mindless chant, they call up the same old red herring to blame it on-- cholesterol.

The CDC is quick to point out the health issues that put people more at risk for heart disease:  diabetes, obesity, poor diet, inactivity, and excessive alcohol use. But the first thing the medical establishment will do with those at risk is put them on a low fat, low calorie diet--a diet with no track record whatsoever of success. Don't get me wrong, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is not a bad thing. But most people on a "low fat" diet, don't reach for the fruits and vegetables. They reach instead for all the processed foods bearing "low fat" "heart-healthy" labels... low fat cheese, low fat milk, low fat yogurt, low fat pretzels, low fat desserts, diet soft drinks. The problem here is that when the fat is removed from a normally fatty food, it must be replaced with something else in order to make the food tasty. More often than not, the substitution is a chemical or a sugar... or both.

Furthermore, dietary fat is not the problem. No study has ever been done that conclusively links heart disease or any other chronic disease with the consumption of fatty foods. The low-fat diet theory is the product of a 1977 government publication called Dietary Goals for the United States, championed by Senator George McGovern. As discussed in Gary Taubes' excellent book, Good Calories Bad Calories, the report itself acknowledged that there was no real evidence to support the idea that reducing fat content in the diet would lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of chronic illness. 
"Dietary Goals took a grab bag of ambiguous studies and speculation, acknowledged that the claims were scientifically contentious, and then officially bestowed on one interpretation the aura of established fact."(1) 
In no time, the low-fat diet became "settled science"... settled only in the sense that no more discussion would be allowed.

Now we have the Heart Health organization telling us by virtue of this bizarre partnership that a product that is loaded with chemicals and devoid of nutrients is going to benefit those at risk for heart disease. This is not only bad advice, it is akin to malpractice. Medical professionals such as those at the CDC and the NIH (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute) ought to know better! For starters, Diet Coke (any diet drink for that matter) has no redeeming value and cannot even really be classified as a food. It is a concoction of artificial ingredients.

Even more worrisome, Diet Coke(R) contains the artificial sweetener, Aspartame, a known excitotoxin linked to migraine headaches, seizures, anxiety attacks, depression and brain cancer. But don't worry. So far, it's not associated with heart disease.

We expect a measure of embellishment in marketing campaigns...after all, they're trying to sell their product. But there's a limit to the level of false advertising we should be willing to accept. This one, in my opinion, crosses the line. The institutions that claim to have our best interests at heart have no business colluding with companies whose products are downright dangerous to our health. When they do, they betray the public trust.

So next time you're tempted to pick up a diet soft drink, do yourself a favor and grab a water instead. Despite the deceptive advertisement, the heart truth can't be found in government diet programs or your favorite diet drink. The best heart health program is one based on natural whole foods and healthy fats ...and low in anything with a label.

Aspartame Pathway

(1) Good Calories Bad Calories, pp 44-46

Friday, February 8, 2013

Your Pets and Cancer

As I was flying home from my vacation this week, I thought I’d browse through the magazine they always provide you in the seat pocket—you know the one, it has a little bit of airline information, a few interesting articles about exotic places or celebrities or where to eat if you find yourself in Timbuktu…and, like every other magazine ever printed, lots of ads. 

One of those ads jumped out at me. It was an ad by Morris Animal Foundation that stated one in four dogs die of cancer.  According to, after ten years of age, your dog has a 1 in 2 chance of dying from cancer. As many as 33% of cats and younger dogs will die of cancer.

In the wild, cancer strikes about 10% of the animal population. Some cancers are virus-induced, but most of the cancer problems in the wild are caused by carcinogens in the environment such as those found in polluted waterways.

That begs the question—why are pets more at risk when they live in human homes and are presumably fed clean water, get their shots on a regular basis, and gobble up their Kibbles ‘n Bits or Purina chow, which as we’re plainly told are “bits of love and joy” and are healthy, healthy, healthy?

In the end, chronic illness always come down to food. Suppose that food you’re feeding your canine (or feline) family member isn't as healthy as you think it is? 

This isn't the first time I've called into question the ingredients in pet food. Last year I posted on the cat food I was feeding my sweet little kitty with stomach problems. She still has trouble, by the way, though her food is one of the mostly healthier varieties. But the dear thing won't eat fresh fish or liver or anything most cats would die for-- she eats only hard dry processed cat food. At the ripe old age of twelve, I suppose I shouldn't expect her to change her ways now.

Commercial dog and cat food has only been around the last hundred years or so. It is highly processed and full of questionable, if not downright scary, ingredients. I've provided some links below of articles describing, better than I can, the makeup of what we put into our beloved animals every day. After reading through them, I'm surprised that the cancer rate isn't higher than it is. 

Unfortunately, feeding animals can get expensive. And let's face it, it's easier to believe that pet food manufacturers wouldn't deliberately put unhealthy ingredients into their products and then market them as wholesome and healthy... who would do that?!  Who wants to consider the possibility that ethics are dead in today's world? Organic pet food? That's just silly. 

There's a growing industry dealing with animal cancer, with all the same treatments they have for humans...chemotherapy, radiation. But what if the solution is as simple as the food we feed them? 

It's certainly worth considering.