The breast medicine money can buy?
Some enterprising health nuts are touting an unorthodox method of building muscle and fighting cancer — by drinking human breast milk. And despite being a down-low fad for a while now, interest in mammary milk has spilled into the mainstream thanks to the Netflix docuseries “(Un)well.”
“If I wanna grow and be the best that I can, I’m going to eat like a baby,” says South Carolina’s Jameson “JJ” Ritenour, an amateur bodybuilder on Episode 3 who procures breast milk through a donor on Facebook. Ritenour claims on the show that the unconventional supplement has helped him shed body fat while staying swoll, reports Insider.
“I would say the vitamins from the breast milk have really helped him,” says Ritenour’s trainer in the episode. The trainer claims to have measured his progress before and after taking his peculiar performance enhancer.
Speaking about the trend, sports dietician Brian St. Pierre told Men’s Health Magazine, “I think the idea behind drinking breast milk for muscle growth is that it’s incredibly calorie and nutrient dense, and it has some additional healthy substances.”
He adds, “Breast milk is designed to rapidly grow a human baby, so maybe people think a similar effect will happen to fully grown humans?”
However, so far, evidence of breast milk’s bodybuilding benefits remain anecdotal. Despite proving essential for the development of an infant, it’s “not particularly valuable for athletes,” according to Bruce German, a professor of food and chemistry at the University of California, Davis. He added that the substance’s nutritional composition was poor, as well, with low protein, high saturated fat and an abundance of indigestible lactose.
Not only that, but the human milk is often purchased through shady sources like Facebook, Craigslist, Reddit or even pregnant women, which ups the likelihood of contamination, reports Men’s Health.
“Breast milk generally isn’t regulated — if the woman has a terrible diet, the breast milk will be terrible quality,” said Marc Halpern, a dietitian from Salt Lake City. “And diseases like HIV can be transmitted through breast milk.”
Indeed, a study conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital revealed that out of 101 samples of breast milk purchased online, 75% harbored harmful pathogens while 10% of them were purposefully cut with cow’s milk or baby formula.
Nonetheless, muscleheads aren’t the only proponents of grown-ups downing mother’s milk. Howard Cohen, a prostate-cancer survivor featured in the episode, has reportedly been consuming the stuff for around two decades since he read a 1999 article claiming a breast milk ingredient called HAMLET (human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumour cells) destroyed cancer cells.
Cohen claims breast milk caused his PSA levels — a marker for prostate-cancer risk — to plummet and the disease has been untraceable since. He’s “definitely convinced me there is something there,” says Pauline Sakamoto, the executive director of Mothers’ Milk Bank in San Jose, California, where Cohen procures his so-called cancer cure.
Meanwhile, some research has shown that drinking HAMLET has allowed bladder-cancer survivors to flush out dead cancer cells by urinating.
Nonetheless, breast milk might not be the oncological holy grail that the study claims. “The only problem [with drinking breast milk] is it’s a protein, and usually proteins are digested in the gastrointestinal tract,” said Anders Hakansson, an experimental medicine professor from Sweden, who headed the 1999 study. “So whether it would actually reach the tumor out in the body somewhere … we don’t know.”
Even if breast milk did boast health benefits, a nationwide shortage puts elderly cancer survivors at the bottom of the list when it comes to worthy donees.
“There is not enough donor breast milk for babies in intensive care units that desperately need it,” Katie Hinde, a professor at Arizona State University’s Center for Evolution and Medicine, says on “(Un)well.”
St. Pierre sums up the breast milk craze like this: “This stuff probably just isn’t special, and it’s not worth the hassle, risk or money.”
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