A friend linked me to an article written by a well known alternative health “educator” I use quotes because this particular gentleman does a certain amount of fear mongering in a rather deliberate way as part of his very successfully monetizing marketing campaign. Fear for sales is not something I am a fan of. Reading his article I couldn’t help but think that this was like many other articles I have read of his…overblown with conclusions drawn that were a stretch at best. To satisfy my curiosity about whether or not researchers had actually gone on record suggesting what he said was suggested I went digging for source materials.
Interestingly enough in his “sources” he did not link to the actual source of the information from which he wrote such a disturbing article, which is a fascinating study performed by several researchers at the National Centers for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which is part of what we commonly know as the CDC. The title of this study is Inhibitory effect of breast milk on infectivity of live oral rotavirus vaccines Or, in plain English: Why breast-milk would make live oral rotavirus vaccines ineffective or less effective.
The abstract of this study can be read here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20442687
The study begins with a statement about how the Rotavirus vaccine has proven less effective among children in poor developing countries compared with middle income and industrialized countries for reasons that are not yet completely understood. The scope of the study was to determine whether the neutralizing activity of breast milk could lower the titer of vaccine virus and explain this difference in vitro.
Just incase you are wondering here’s the definition of in vitro: In vitro comes from the Latin term “in glass” and refers to studies of biological properties that are done in a test tube (i.e. under glass) rather than in a human or animal. As opposed to in vivo (“in life”) studies which are done inside an organism. In vitro studies allow scientists to isolate specific cells, bacteria, and viruses and study them without the distractions of having to look at a whole organism.
With that clarified we’ll move onto the next section which is the methods used for the study.
Breast milk samples were collected from mothers who were breast-feeding infants 4 to 29 weeks of age (ie, vaccine eligible age) in India (N = 40), Vietnam (N = 77), South Korea (N = 34), and the United States (N = 51). We examined breast milk for rotavirus-specific IgA and neutralizing activity against 3 rotavirus vaccine strains-RV1, RV5 G1, and 116E using enzyme immunoassays. The inhibitory effect of breast milk on RV1 was further examined by a plaque reduction assay
IgA can be read about in all it’s geeky detailed glory by clicking the name.
Now onto the part that I found the most fascinating.
Breast milk from Indian women had the highest IgA and neutralizing titers against all 3 vaccine strains, while lower but comparable median IgA and neutralizing titers were detected in breast milk from Korean and Vietnamese women, and the lowest titers were seen in American women. Neutralizing activity was greatest against the 2 vaccine strains of human origin, RV1 and 116E. This neutralizing activity in one half of the breast milk specimens from Indian women could reduce the effective titer of RV1 by ∼2 logs, of 116E by 1.5 logs, and RV5 G1 strain by ∼1 log more than that of breast milk from American women.
Now, the researchers do not venture a speculation as to why this antibody action would be so much less in American women as compared to the breast milk of women from other countries. My best guess would be that it pertains to our deplorable nutrient deficient SAD diets. The lack of nutrients means a lack of reserves for a woman’s body to use to create these immune beneficial properties to then pass along to an infant via breast-milk. How’s that for motivation and encouragement to eat nutrient dense foods while we are nursing eh Mamas?
And now for the part that had my jaw hitting the floor and a feeling of incredulity washing over me.
The lower immunogenicity and efficacy of rotavirus vaccines in poor developing countries could be explained, in part, by higher titers of IgA and neutralizing activity in breast milk consumed by their infants at the time of immunization that could effectively reduce the potency of the vaccine. Strategies to overcome this negative effect, such as delaying breast-feeding at the time of immunization, should be evaluated.
Allow me a bit of incredulous reaction. We are speaking of specifically poor, developing countries. One of the things about poor countries is that well…they are poor. Poor means they don’t have much money or access to heavily refined products. Products like oh, let’s say formula for example. Most women in poor countries can neither access or afford high quality infant formula. When the researchers suggest the possibility of delaying breast-feeding at the time of immunization are they suggesting perhaps that a baby be forced to “fast” for a matter of hours during the time of the administration of the vaccine? Or for a matter of days without access to breast milk to assure the vaccines greatest opportunity to work? If it is a matter of hours you run into the potential of lactating mothers becoming engorged. Unlike their industrial country counterparts women from poor un developed countries do not have easy or affordable access to such conveniences as breast pumps. If it is a matter of days they are suggesting a lactating woman to simply “take a break” from nursing and a) find alternate means of nourishment for her baby and b) managed to maintain her milk supply without becoming engorged or having her supply disappear due to lack of demand seems utterly ludicrous to me.
As it is commonly asserted by leading immunologists infants do not have much if any immune system of their own before they are a year old. I talk about that in this post. It seems as though something these researchers are suggesting is that they think it might be a viable and perhaps even healthier choice to restrict an infants access to the nourishment that is providing it’s sole source of immunity in order to give it a live vaccine that works by stimulating the immune system. Am I the only one that sees this experiment ending with a lot of sick babies? It’s like Ok, let’s take away the one thing that is protecting these infants, perhaps a little too well, to the point that it’s messing up our standard protocol of vaccinations, and introduce a live disease element to their young bodies and expect this to provide optimal health to these children. It makes absolutely no sense to me.
I for one hope their desired followup ideas are not explored. Sounds like a miserable thing to do to nursing Mamas and Babies at best and potentially catastrophic at worst for the ‘subjects’ submitted to follow up testing.
But my takeaway point isn’t that some group of scientists that seem oblivious to the logistics involved in the real world want to try something out that seems futile…It’s the suggestion and reminder from the data that came back in the study that American’s women’s immunity they are passing to their breastfed babies is not as “potent” as that of their unrefined countries counterparts. I’m off to eat a nutrient dense, whole foods breakfast and take some basic immune support supplements. My body is my babies immune system protection right now and I’m gonna start taking that responsibility a whole lot more seriously.
I’ll close with a short message from Caleb, on behalf of all nursing babies out there. “We thank you Mamas of the world for sacrificing vanity, personal comfort, convenience and at times public approval to attempt to feed us all too often ungrateful little chubby things food manufactured from your body. Eat good food!”