Breast milk

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Breast milk: one of the most important sources of dioxins and PCBs. Breast milk contains many lipid-soluble materials that are present in mother's adipose tissue. In fact the concentrations of PCBs and PCDD/Fs are almost identical in mother’s adipose tissue, serum lipid and breast milk fat. This is an effective excretion method for the mother, who can lose even 25 % of her body burden of these substances during a long breast-feeding period. However, 25 % of mother’s body burden is then concentrated to a much smaller body, that of the baby. Therefore breast-fed babies are an obvious high-risk group for PCBs and PCDD/Fs. The dilemma of a risk assessor is that it is known with certainty that breast-feeding is beneficial for the baby, but there is no certainty that these chemicals would cause any harm at their present concentrations. Therefore most international expert groups have emphasised the importance of breast feeding and considered that whatever risks the dioxins may cause, they are not greater than the risks of not using the health advantages of mother’s milk with its nutritional value, immunologically useful proteins and other health promoting factors. The latest dioxin risk assessment is based explicitly on the safety of the baby, and the tolerable daily intake (TDI) is calculated as a dose in mother’s diet that would not cause too high exposure either to the foetus or a newborn breast-fed baby (WHO, Food Add. Contam. 2000:17:223-238, [2]).[1]

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Changes in PCDD/F body burden in some countries measured from human milk samples of primipara mothers. (Data from ENHIS factsheet “Persistent organic pollutants in human milk”, 2009, with the permission of WHO Euro:


  1. Tuomisto, Vartiainen, Tuomisto: Dioxin synopsis. Report / National Institute for Health and Welfare, ISSN 1798-0089 ; 14/2011 [1]