Breast milk as the baby’s first miracle food is gaining impetus. It is enlarging its territory beyond tiny tummies and could soon garner a bigger ‘clientele’. Like the way it helps babies to develop; breast milk, too, is embracing a grander vision – treading outside the parameters of the very young.

Scientists are now engaged in talks of extending the benefits to grownups.

Breast milk is known to be best for babies as it contains not just the vitamins and nutrients that enable a baby to grow and thrive; but, also sugars that can be instrumental in keeping infection at bay.

Hence, there is every hint that sugars may be the new trendsetters for health and grownups may look forward to the day when they can take a wonder sugary prebiotic the same way they pop their multi-vitamins.

A Berkeley biotech company, Sugarlogix, is exploring the feasibility of isolating these sugars that make breast milk unique, and turning it into a powdered prebiotic supplement.

Sugarlogix founders Kulika Chomvong (left) and Chaeyoung Shin. Photo: Or Weizman/Berkeleyside
Sugarlogix founders Kulika Chomvong (left) and Chaeyoung Shin. Photo: Or Weizman/Berkeleyside

This Silicon Valley start-up hopes to market the benefits of breast milk to the adult population, and to eventually sell its sugars to food producers.

"This the the very first time adults can really harness the power of breast milk. We wanted to find the very first food for the gut that we ever received as babies, and that's breast milk," explained Kulika Chomvong, chief executive officer of Sugarlogix.

“We were interested in prebiotics and we realised that the best type of prebiotics exists in nature, and that’s in human breast milk,” she added.

Benefits of breast milk for adults remain unclear

The next question inevitably arises: Can this superfood be good as well for the grownup microbiome?

Michael Miller, a microbiologist at the University of Illinois, said that the benefit of synthesising sugars for infants is still not even clear, let alone for adults.

Sugarlogix is exploring the feasibility of isolating these sugars that make breast milk unique, and turning it into a powdered prebiotic supplement. Photo credit: Sugarlogix/Channel News Asia
Sugarlogix is exploring the feasibility of isolating these sugars that make breast milk unique, and turning it into a powdered prebiotic supplement. Photo credit: Sugarlogix/Channel News Asia

“Different mom’s milks will have different compositions. It’s too complex to fully replicate,” he explained.

“Some of the simpler sugars that are most common in mom’s milks we can now make somewhat economically. But, it’s not yet clear whether these simpler sugars will give you some of the benefit of breast milk sugars, or whether the real benefit is having the full complexity that exists in a mom’s milk.”

Miller added that there is evidence suggesting that breast milks provides resistance to infections to infants – and maybe, an adult could benefit from that.

At this point, he felt the idea is mostly conjecture, and if a person did benefit, it would likely come in the form of taking a pill for a specific purpose, rather than like a daily vitamin.

Human milk 'better' than protein shake for gym fanatics?

There are athletes who are putting aside their protein powder for breast milk as the ultimate performance elixir.

Associate Professor Jill Sheriff, an expert in nutritional biochemistry in Curtin University, said while breast milk contains the right nutrients for babies, there are no nutritional benefits for adults that "can't be obtained from other food sources".

"Some of the immune-enhancing proteins in breast milk wouldn't survive in an adult gut because it is more mature [the stomach produces more acid, and the levels of certain enzymes are higher]," Jill said.

Still, the demand for breast milk is mounting with online breast milk banks paying women up to USD1,200 a month to produce and sell extra breast milk.

"I would discourage anyone from purchasing breast milk from those untrusted sources," said paediatrician Lana Gagin.

"The way this milk is stored and processed is not always safe. There is nothing in breast milk that can be of benefit to a healthy adult [and] there is nothing in breast milk that would enhance your physical performance."

Claims of breast milk as medicine for cancer

It was reported that lactation consultant Jenny Jones started drinking rejected breast milk from milk banks to boost her immunity during a bone marrow transplant. Though she also received chemotherapy, she credited breast milk as playing a large part in her treatment.

Swedish researcher Professor Catharina Svanborg whose research focuses on human-alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumour cells (HAMLET), has been looking into breast milk's cancer-killing abilities.

Though human trials show some promising results, cancer experts feel there appears to be no recently completed or currently ongoing studies with HAMLET.

Jill believes that because breast milk is so important for babies, giving it to adults just isn't a priority for milk banks or researchers.

"Even if it were useful, where would we get enough human breast milk from for adults to drink?" Jill asked.

Perhaps, before marketers start to launch breast milk tarts or cheese, adults should let babies be babies, and not deprive them of their first power food. Wouldn’t it be wise for adults to stop trespassing that which belongs to the tiny ones, and behave like grownups? MIMS

Read more:
Singapore’s first Donor Human Milk Bank brings hope for sick and pre-term babies
Private hospitals in Singapore urged to support breastfeeding as infant formula prices rise
WHO: No country in the world fully meets breastfeeding standards

Sources:
https://gizmodo.com/is-breast-milk-good-for-grownups-1819217783
http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/health/us-company-aims-to-develop-breast-milk-products-for-adults-9303776
https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-10-breast-boost-athletic-adults-cancer.html
https://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-02-breast-consumption-trending-body-builders.html#nRlv