Drinking human breast milk is no longer just a hobby discussed by some fetishists on hidden internet chatrooms – a huge community of health enthusiasts is convinced it's a “superfood” capable of fending off disease and improving fitness. But studies suggest it could be incredibly dangerous.
The liquid, which most of us would pay large sums to not have to drink, has become a lucrative prospect for sellers via sites like www.onlythebreast.com, where breast milk can be sold under a “discreet, classified system”.
The craze stems from unregulated sites and online forums where body builders, mums and chronic disease sufferers gather to discuss the virtues of this healthier alternative to normal cows' milk. One US site reported accumulating an additional 800 users each month in the last year.
But there's little evidence to support these claims – and in fact the opposite is often true: drinking breast milk can be extremely dangerous.
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Unlike at regulated milk banks, where the milk is screened, collected and pasteurised according to strict rules, the milk bought via these completely unregulated sites could contain any number of viral or bacterial infections, such as HIV and Hepatitis. The attraction for consumers is that it's cheaper.
A recent report published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) showed how more than 90 per cent of breast milk purchased online contained bacterial growth, while an earlier study in 2013 revealed how 21 per cent of milk samples bought via these sites tested positive cytomegalovirus, a type of herpes virus that permanently damages the immune system.
Another study found that 92 out of 101 samples purchased online contained bacterial growth - the result of not being pasteurised and being stored and shipped in an unclean way.
“Even healthcare professionals aren’t entirely aware of just how dangerous it is and just how many samples are contaminated,” said Dr Sarah Steele, lead researcher in the BMJ study. “It’s not a small industry."