In a Netflix docu-series titled (Un)Well, released earlier this year, a bodybuilder and a cancer survivor make an interesting revelation — both of them say they drink human breast milk, adding how it has boosted their health.
While bodybuilder Jameson ‘JJ’ Ritenour considers breast milk to be a natural supplement for weight loss and muscle mass growth, prostate cancer survivor Howard Cohen believes it has kept the life-threatening disease at bay.
Ritenour and Cohen are not exactly exceptions. There has been some demand for breast milk among adults, leading to a lucrative online market mainly, in the West.
In a 2015 study published in the journal The Royal Society of Medicine, researcher Sarah Steele writes, “While breast milk has long been promoted as optimal for infant nutrition, among CrossFit, BodyBuilding, Palaeo and other fitness communities, fetishists, chronic disease sufferers and even foodies, breast milk is in demand. In the UK, breast milk ice cream is for sale. In the USA, a lollypop company sells a breast milk-flavoured sweet. Primarily, though, the milk is sold in its raw state, ready to drink.”
Steele further talks about how websites and online forums manage to sell breast milk for adults at a premium price by boasting of its several health benefits. But does breast milk really benefit adults?
Should adults consume breast milk?
Dr Suneeta Mittal, director and head of department, obstetrics and gynaecology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, tells indianexpress.com that there is no clinical evidence of adults benefitting from breast milk. “The protein content of breast milk is much lower than other milk. And it can also contain bacteria. We do not follow a health trend like this in India,” she says.
This is corroborated by research. Besides, there are also chances of chemical and environmental contaminants making their way into breast milk. In the study, Steele writes, “…raw human milk purchased online or in an unpasteurised state poses many risks. It exposes consumers to food-borne illnesses like any other raw milk. Research into breast milk bought online identified the presence of detectable bacteria in 93 per cent of samples, with Gram-negative bacteria in 74 per cent of samples. Such levels of bacteria can be attributed to the failure to sanitise properly when expressing milk, the failure to sterilise equipment properly, improper or prolonged storage of milk and improper transportation of milk.”
In addition, there is not enough breast milk available for babies and this trend would only deprive them of the supply further. With respect to India, Dr Mittal says, “In India, we already have shortage of breast milk. Milk banks face a lot of difficulty in providing adequate milk for premature babies who cannot otherwise be breastfed. And this milk undergoes proper screening before being given to babies.”