The newest, hottest workout recovery beverage: Human breast milk


There’s a reason this package says “my Mommy’s milk,” right? (Linda Davidson/ The Washington Post)

When chef Daniel Angerer decided to make cheese from his wife’s breast milk, it was … bizarre.

Interesting, but definitely not something you see every day — and even Angerer acknowledged it was something of a novelty. Can you make cheese with breast milk? Yes. Yes, you can.

On Wednesday, the Cut introduced us to men who drink breast milk for health reasons, including as a workout recovery beverage. One used it to ease nausea when he was going through chemotherapy. Another hopes the wonder substance will cure his psoriasis. Another uses it as a daily immune booster: “It occurred to me that breast milk could be just as healthy and tasteful for adults as infants,” Jason Nash told reporter Chavie Leiber. “I believe it has kept me from getting sick all these years.” Oh, and then there are your regular old run-of-the-mill fetishists.

They get it from sites such as Only the Breast, Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies. National milk banks generally aren’t interested in serving fully-grown adults. What makes this seem all the more Freudian is that all the proponents of adult breast-milk guzzling that Leiber found were men.

UPDATE: The founder of Human Milk 4 Human Babies, Emma Kwasnica, said in an email that the company “does NOT support the sale of human milk.” Human Milk 4 Human Babies is a “peer-to-peer breastmilk sharing network operating in 54 countries around the world.”

Odd as this is, it raises some questions:

What the heck is in human breast milk?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, human breast milk is composed of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates plus cells called leukocytes: “They help fight infection. It is the antibodies, living cells, enzymes, and hormones that make breast milk ideal. These cannot be added to formula,” the association said.

Florence Williams, author of “Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History,” described it this way:

If human breast milk, nature’s perfect food, came stamped with an ingredients label, it would read something like this: 4 percent fat, vitamins A, C, E and K, sugars, essential minerals, proteins, enzymes, and antibodies. It contains 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of virtually everything a baby needs to grow, plus, as we’ve seen, a solid hedge of extras to help ward off a lifetime of diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer. Despite exhaustion, visiting relatives, and even dirty laundry, every time we nurse our babies, the love hormone oxytocin courses out of our pituitaries like a warm bath. Human milk is like ice cream, penicillin, and the drug ecstasy all wrapped up in two pretty packages.

Does it actually do anything?

Chocolate milk is seen as a great recovery drink for a number of reasons. From Fitness Magazine:

For a high-endurance athlete, [physiologist Joel] Stager’s team sees it as a catch-all workout recovery drink. Compared to plain milk, water, or most sports drinks, it has double the carbohydrate and protein content, perfect for replenishing tired muscles. Its high water content replaces fluids lost as sweat, preventing dehydration. Plus it packs a nutritional bonus of calcium, and includes just a little sodium and sugar — additives that help recovering athletes retain water and regain energy.

Drinking plain water after exercise replaces sweat losses — and that’s it. “Chocolate milk provides carbohydrate replenishment to your muscles — something they can metabolize,” said Jason Karp, MS, another researcher for this study. “There’s nothing to metabolize in water.”

But what about breast milk?

“This is quite bizarre, completely anecdotal and probably complete bunkum,” David Kerr, the professor of clinical pharmacology and cancer therapeutics at Oxford University, told the Telegraph. He was referring to cancer patients using breast milk as a palliative during chemotherapy. “It probably won’t do any harm but it’s unlikely to do any good either.”

Scientists have found chemicals in breast milk that could help adults, in the form of milk-derived drugs.

Is it worth the trouble?

Breast milk is not an easy substance to generate. For starters, you need to be a woman capable of lactating, and whatever milk is going to men is milk not going to the infant responsible for the spike in prolactin and oxytocin levels that make lactating possible. Some women have no problem producing enough milk to feed their babies, but many do not, hence the need for lactation consultants. Another common occurrence: plugged milk ducts, or a painful infection called mastitis. And breastfeeding can be incredibly draining. You thought taking care of an infant was exhausting by itself. Try having a tiny human literally suck the energy out of you. Okay, mostly it’s the oxytocin that’s released when you breast feed: It makes you sleepy because it’s a relaxation hormone. A high percentage of women find breastfeeding, even without mastitis, painful.

In short: Producing breast milk, and breastfeeding, is hard work. According to Leiber, it’s valued at about $2.50 per ounce. That said, some women find they produce a surplus. More power to them?

What about all the other stuff that’s in it?

In her book Williams also notes the presence of more alarming compounds in modern breast milk: DDT, PCBs, trichloroethylene, perchlorate, dibenzofurans, mercury, lead, benzene, arsenic. Breasts and breast tissue are like sponges, Williams said, and the fatty tissue absorbs the chemicals in its surrounding environment:

When we nurse our babies, we feed them not only the fats and sugars that fire their immune systems, cellular metabolism, and cerebral synapses. We also feed them, in albeit miniscule amounts, paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, wood preservatives, toilet deodorizers, cosmetic additives, gasoline by-products, rocket fuel, termite poisons, fungicides, and flame retardants. … If human milk were sold at the local Piggly Wiggly, it would exceed the federal safety levels for some of those chemicals in food.

Makes Muscle Milk sound positively organic, doesn’t it?

 

h/t The Cut

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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