PFAS exposure is thought to make breast milk less nutritious
A new study based on data involving 44 Finnish mothers and their infants indicated that the harmful chemicals PFAS change the composition of breast milk, rendering it less nutritious for the child.
PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) are chemicals whose adverse impacts on human health are well documented and include disruption to the normal functioning of the immune, reproductive and hormone systems in humans and wildlife. The chemicals are also of concern due to their extreme persistence as they do not degrade easily in the natural environment.
However, this new study indicates that PFAS also has the ability to alter the fat composition of breast milk, reducing the levels of healthier unsaturated fats and increasing the unhealthy saturated variety. The study connects this change to slower infant growth and less developed gut flora. Due to the importance of breastmilk for overall child health, the research also indicates that PFAS exposure may have further detrimental impacts on child health and development later in life.
This study is not the first to draw connections between PFAS and breastfeeding. Previous work has indicated that mothers with more PFAS in their blood have a shortened duration of breastfeeding, although this has yet to be fully explained.
So what can we do?
The solution is not to stop breastfeeding. Whilst breastfeeding is not possible for all mothers, breast milk is still considered the ideal food for infants.
PFAS are chemicals that are used in everything from cookware to cosmetics and are substances that can accumulate in our bodies over time. Due to these properties, it is imperative that all non-essential uses of PFAS are banned. The EU is already in the process of bringing about a proposal to restrict the use and manufacture of all PFAS. CHEM Trust is calling on the UK Governments to adopt a similar approach in the context of the new UK Chemicals Strategy.