|A group of infants and mothers tested at UT Arlington have given researchers another reason to extol the unique properties of breast milk.
A team led by Purnendu "Sandy" Dasgupta, Jenkins Garrett Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has found evidence that breast-fed babies can metabolize the environmental contaminant perchlorate, decreasing their risks of detrimental developmental effects from exposure.
The research suggests a link between this characteristic and bifidobacteria, bacteria that is plentiful in the digestive systems of breast-fed babies.
The team's work with 18 pairs of infants and mothers is detailed in the article "Breast-fed Infants Metabolize Perchlorate," which was recently accepted for publication by the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology and is available online.
"Both Centers for Disease Control researchers and our lab have previously observed that there is a higher concentration of perchlorate in breast milk versus formula. Although the merits of breastfeeding far outweigh any risk posed by this, it has caused some mothers concern." Dasgupta said. "Our results suggest that nature has already devised a way to at least partly take care of it."
Dasgupta's team did not find similar evidence of perchlorate metabolism in a small number of samples from formula-fed infants. "Formula-fed babies get much less perchlorate anyway, so the risk is not as great as the breast-fed babies," Dasgupta said.
Carolyn Cason, UT Arlington interim vice president for research, said Dasgupta's findings have added valuable information to what is known about the benefits of breastfeeding and the impact of environmental contaminants.
"The worldwide chemistry community has honored Dr. Dasgupta time and again for his willingness to address a diverse group of problems with novel solutions," Cason said.
Perchlorate occurs naturally in the environment and in rocket fuel, fireworks, some fertilizers and road flares. Evidence suggests it can block the uptake of iodine to the thyroid and disrupt the production of hormones necessary for normal neurological development. These effects would be particularly harmful to infants and young children.
Reports of high levels of exposure have not been widespread, but concerns remain and government studies show between 5 million to 17 million people may be drinking water containing perchlorate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in February 2011 that it would review emerging science on perchlorate and develop a regulation "to protect Americans from