Kale, açai berries, chia seeds, quinoa, cashew nuts…The list of trendy superfoods goes on, with new items becoming new fads year by year. Motivational health documentaries about raw food diets, plant-based diets, and “re-boot” juice diets have encouraged this new focus on food and our health. Meat and dairy are getting a bad rap, and veganism is on the rise. Such recommendations are not limited to sensationalist documentaries; even the newly released Canadian Food Guide downgraded the value of meat and dairy in favor of plants and water. But there is one type of dairy that some claim could be the most super of superfoods: a type if dairy that was not meant for calves, lambs, or kids (as in the goat kind), but for human consumption: breastmilk.
I didn’t know about any claims that breastmilk might extend beyond benefiting babies until I was pregnant with my first child and started to read up on breastfeeding. I knew I wanted my child to breastfeed, but never imagined that I’d end up convincing my husband to take a swig I’d expressed into a little cup when he was trying to beat off a cold! But despite him downing it looking like he was drinking the worst shot in the world, he actually did it. Several times. In fact, every time one of us felt we had a scratchy throat, we’d take some breastmilk, thinking it would knock it on the head. It seemed to, but was it just a placebo?
According to the famous American pediatrician, Dr. Sears, “human milk is more than food. It’s a complex living substance…with a long list of active germ-fighting and health-promoting ingredients.” As such, it develops a unique formula of antibodies to help the baby’s immune system fight against bacteria or viruses that are detected in the environment. By that logic, if there is a virus in the house, everyone living there would benefit from the milk.
Related: Ultimate Breastfeeding Benefits
Breastmilk has also been used by adults to treat much more serious illnesses than the common cold. Though there has been no serious scientific study on the topic, it has been used in some cases to help fight cancer and to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy, and boost patients’ immune system. In 1995 some researchers from Lund University in Sweden found that a compound in human milk killed brain tumor cells in a test tube. Nine years later the same team found that it also killed a skin wart virus that is connected to cervical cancer.
Besides fighting off disease, breastmilk has also been touted as good for muscle building. Over the past few years, bodybuilding men have been seeking out breastmilk not for its protein value, which is low, but for its ability to stimulate muscle growth and repair, through a protein called IGF (insulin-like growth factor). But according to Men’s Health Magazine, breastmilk really isn’t a superfood when it comes to bodybuilding, and is less beneficial than some protein shakes.
So, has this interest in breastmilk occurred as just another lucrative, commercial fad? Women have reported making more than $6,000 selling their milk to men. In London, a company gained attention for making breastmilk ice-cream, and in New York City, two restauranteurs made the news for making breastmilk cheese. A friend of mine living in Washington D.C even spotted it on offer in a coffee shop!
The fact is though, that not enough research has been done on breastmilk to give a clear answer to its benefits for adults. Moreover, without knowing the actual source of the milk, it could even be dangerous, if it has not been screened for diseases such as HIV, or hepatitis B and C, which can be passed through the milk.
So, your partner testing your breastmilk at home is one thing, but going all out to buy it unregulated online from someone you don't know is an entirely other matter, and generally not recommended.