But a new article on the University of California, San Francisco site claims that neuroscientist Michael Merzenich has performed research that may make some leaning toward formula fulling tip over the edge.
Merzenich tested newborn rats by dosing them with the proportionally even amount that newborn humans get from human breastmilk of the chemicals PCBs and PBDEs. The outcome, he said, was
brains that were more degraded in their organization developmentally in these rats than we have ever seen before
Merzenich made it clear that these tests were on rats, not people. And it’s not so easy as cause and effect. There are a few things that he was concerned about, but brings these worries forward “with trepidation”:
In general our study adds to the worry and it really indicates that it’s in the great public interest to determine quickly whether or not these chemical poisons…are adding to the risk of onset of these developmental disorders. Because if they are this is a big thing.
The consequence of adding the PCB poisoning to simulating what we believed to be the factors that are contributing to the onset of these developmental disorders, autism and related disorders, had devastating additional consequences. So we saw brains that were more degraded in their organization developmentally in these rats than we have ever seen before.
What are these chemicals again? PCBs have long been banned, but PBDEs are their chemical cousins. They’re flame retardants and are found in everything from pajamas to mattresses to electronics. When these are sent to the dump, the chemicals enter the water system and go into the land. They start off low in the food chain until they reach humans in higher levels. American women have the highest levels in the world.
Dr. Merzenich also called some attention to the rise in cases of autism spectrum disorder and tied it to the rise in breastfeeding rates of the past 30 years, as though in that case correlation is causation. He said that yes, PCBs and PBDEs “bioaccumulate” (so meat-eaters are disproportionately affected). But he also wondered whether our success at getting women to breastfeed has increased the rate of ASD and related disorders, especially for those who are genetically predisposed. Obviously, toxins will pass from mama’s body to her baby.
Still, over and over, Dr. Merzenich reiterated: breastfeeding is good. Women should breastfeed.
This is a positive and good and healthy thing…
So all of the wonderful good and positive reasons for nursing your baby, those are all real, those are all terrific, they are all for the good of the baby unequivocally. It’s very hard to speak against that or be discouraging about that but, on the other hand, there is the possibility that in nursing you actually increase the risk of a bad outcome in this respect.
He stresses that further research is needed and has called on the CDC and the Autism Foundation to study the matter further, if possible on humans and not rats.
Image: snaulkter on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
Hat tip: About.com’s Autism Blog.