Breast­feed­ing: don’t pro­mote it as ‘nat­u­ral’, say ex­perts

The huge in­dus­trial sec­tor that presently sup­ports the med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, namely the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and vac­cine in­dus­tries, ob­vi­ously doesn’t like us mak­ing healthy, nat­u­ral choices that pre­vent us from get­ting dis­ease, even at a ripe old age. If we a

Living Now - - Contents - by Robert Verk­erk

The huge in­dus­trial sec­tor that presently sup­ports the med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, namely the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and vac­cine in­dus­tries, ob­vi­ously doesn’t like us mak­ing healthy, nat­u­ral choices that pre­vent us from get­ting dis­ease, even at a ripe old age. If we all did that, the present busi­ness model would col­lapse.

You might think there’s noth­ing much more nat­u­ral than a mother breast­feed­ing her child. Baby’s pas­sage down the birth canal, for those not be­ing born via c-sec­tion, pro­vides in­oc­u­la­tion of a range of bac­te­ria that primes the baby’s im­mune sys­tem and pro­vides the ba­sis of the gut flora (mi­cro­biome) that will pro­vide in­valu­able ser­vices for a life­time. When baby is then de­tached from the um­bil­i­cal cord, and is ex­posed to the out­side world, nu­tri­tion from the child’s mother’s milk pro­vides an in­cred­i­bly so­phis­ti­cated sys­tem of nu­tri­tion that is cus­tomised to the needs of the in­di­vid­ual. Not only that, the quan­tity and qual­ity of nu­tri­tion and as­so­ci­ated im­mune fac­tors pro­vided by breast milk is var­ied ac­cord­ing to the time of day and the nu­tri­tional needs at given pe­ri­ods of de­vel­op­ment. None of this means that those who choose, or are forced, to bot­tle feed should be stig­ma­tised. It’s just the way na­ture made it – over the mil­len­nia of evo­lu­tion.

But – guess what? A pa­per1 pub­lished in April 2016 in one of the world’s lead­ing sci­en­tific jour­nals tar­get­ing pae­di­a­tri­cians, Pe­di­atrics, is call­ing on health pro­fes­sion­als and pub­lic health or­gan­i­sa­tions to stop prais­ing breast­feed­ing as the ‘nat­u­ral’ way to feed in­fants. The rea­son? Well, the au­thors elab­o­rate two main rea­sons. Firstly, the au­thors sug­gest that the term ‘nat­u­ral’ might im­ply that breast­feed­ing is bet­ter than bot­tle feed­ing in­fant for­mu­las. Se­condly, the as­so­ci­a­tion of breast­feed­ing with ‘nat­u­ral’ may con­flict with other pub­lic health ob­jec­tives. Which pub­lic health ob­jec­tives, you may ask? The au­thors aren’t shy here. They tell it straight: child­hood vac­ci­na­tion is top of their list of con­cerns.

The au­thors go on and dis­cuss the slip­pery slope. Their con­cern is that if ‘nat­u­ral’ is pro­moted as good in re­la­tion to breast­feed­ing, breast­feed­ing moth­ers may not only want to breast­feed ex­clu­sively for six months, they may want to help their chil­dren de­velop their im­mu­nity nat­u­rally with­out vac­ci­na­tions. They may also want to pre­fer or­ganic foods and re­ject GMOS or — hor­ror of hor­rors — choose nat­u­ral birthing or home school­ing.

Drs Mar­tucci and Barn­hill proudly claim to have “started a pub­lic cam­paign to end the pos­i­tive use of the word nat­u­ral, claim­ing that it is as­so­ci­ated with such “prob­lem­atic” prac­tices as home birth, home­school­ing and the re­jec­tion of GMO foods, and that nat­u­ral par­ent­ing move­ments are in­ter­fer­ing with vac­ci­na­tion ef­forts.”

In a sep­a­rate blog piece in­tended for a lay au­di­ence, pub­lished in Philadel­phia’s In­quirer2 around a month be­fore the Pe­di­atrics ar­ti­cle came out, iron­i­cally, on April Fool’s Day, the sci­en­tists state that, “A search for ‘nat­u­ral liv­ing’ turns up a va­ri­ety of sites de­voted to nat­u­ral par­ent­ing. Par­ent­ing blogs and nat­u­ral news sites of­ten dis­cuss prac­tices and ideas rang­ing from home-birth and con­sum­ing the pla­centa af­ter birth to home school­ing, breast­feed­ing, and home­opa­thy.” But cen­tral fo­cus for Mar­tucci and Barn­hill’s con­cerns once again re­turns to the thorny sub­ject of child­hood vac­ci­na­tion.

If we ac­cept that it’s okay to as­so­ciate the term ‘nat­u­ral’ with healthy things like breast­feed­ing, the sci­en­tists are deeply con­cerned this will en­cour­age other ‘nat­u­ral’ be­hav­iours that they have de­cided they don’t like, namely “com­ple­men­tary and al­ter­na­tive medicine, skep­ti­cism of in­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity, and a strong com­mit­ment and in­ter­est in health knowl­edge, au­ton­omy and healthy liv­ing prac­tices.”

This is a some­what as­ton­ish­ing po­si­tion to hold. It is at least for some­one like my­self who val­ues fun­da­men­tal rights and free­doms, be­liev­ing these are in­trin­sic to what we like to think of as demo­cratic so­ci­eties. The sci­en­tists have not cited cig­a­rette smok­ing as prob­lem­atic, de­spite the to­bacco plant be­ing nat­u­ral and its be­ing ac­cepted by sci­en­tific con­sen­sus as one of the sin­gle big­gest pre­ventable causes of death known.

What about au­ton­omy and healthy liv­ing prac­tices? Drs Mar­tucci and Barn­hill and have lumped these in their ‘bad’ cat­e­gory. Their as­sump­tion is that high rates of child­hood vac­ci­na­tion are al­ways good, re­gard­less that we’re tend­ing to vac­ci­nate chil­dren ever younger, with new vac­cines, the full ef­fects of which won’t be known for years to come. The HPV vac­cine is a good ex­am­ple. The science that weighs the risks and ben­e­fits of vac­ci­na­tion is noth­ing like as straight­for­ward as it is for cig­a­rette smok­ing. Even here, the causal re­la­tion­ship took over three decades of in­ten­sive re­search to es­tab­lish con­clu­sively. That’s why there’s no longer a smok­ing de­bate, and why there is an on­go­ing vac­ci­na­tion de­bate, de­spite some very heavy pres­sure from gov­ern­ments and health au­thor­i­ties to si­lence those who choose to rely on nat­u­ral im­mu­nity.

For me, what is so deeply con­cern­ing about Drs Mar­tucci and Barn­hill’s propo­si­tion is that au­ton­omy in health choices, as­sum­ing it is based on solid sci­en­tific foun­da­tions, and “healthy liv­ing prac­tices” are cen­tral to any sen­si­ble pub­lic health pol­icy for the fu­ture. We ac­tu­ally need peo­ple to do more to man­age their own health, and to elect for healthy life choices. That’s be­cause our health­care sys­tems, as they presently stand, sim­ply can­not han­dle the likely bur­den of chronic dis­eases along with an

in­creas­ingly top-heavy age dis­tri­bu­tion. The sys­tem is close to break­ing point as it is. Eat­ing right, ex­er­cis­ing, man­ag­ing stress, sleep­ing well — are all healthy liv­ing prac­tices. The more we un­der­stand about these as­pects of diet and life­style, the more we re­alise they af­fect the out­come of an in­di­vid­ual’s fu­ture health more pro­foundly than any other known fac­tor. This doesn’t just ben­e­fit the health­care sys­tem and so­ci­ety as a whole, it also af­fects our qual­ity of life. If you make care­ful, of­ten nat­u­ral, health choices, it seems you’re more than likely des­tined for a longer, health­ier life than choos­ing what might be de­scribed as un­healthy liv­ing.

The huge in­dus­trial sec­tor that presently sup­ports the med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, namely the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and vac­cine in­dus­tries, ob­vi­ously doesn’t like us mak­ing healthy, nat­u­ral choices that pre­vent us from get­ting dis­ease, even at a ripe old age. If we all did that, the present busi­ness model would col­lapse. There are def­i­nitely forces at work that have an in­ter­est in pre­vent­ing us from keep­ing healthy by our­selves, but, let’s face it, it’s the most nat­u­ral thing in the world and I, per­son­ally, feel that we need to tell it how it is. ‘ Nat­u­ral’ is about do­ing things in ways that pre­ceded, over eons, the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion. It’s about work­ing with the sys­tems with which we were en­dowed prior to the de­vel­op­ment of new-to-na­ture chem­i­cal tech­nolo­gies that ex­ploded dur­ing the se­cond half of the 20th cen­tury.

Go­ing nat­u­ral doesn’t mean step­ping back in time. Quite the re­verse, it means mov­ing for­ward. The emerg­ing science of ‘epi­ge­net­ics’ pro­vides the per­fect sci­en­tific back­drop. This field upholds that our health at any given point of time is re­ally a func­tion of our ge­netic ex­pres­sion which is, in turn, de­pen­dent on in­ter­ac­tions be­tween our genes and our environment. This so­phis­ti­cated re­la­tion­ship be­tween our genes and our environment, in which our food rep­re­sents the most in­ti­mate in­ter­ac­tion with our environment known, has changed lit­tle over the last 20,000 years. That’s why ad­verse re­ac­tions to new-to-na­ture phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals are some­what more of a prob­lem in so­ci­ety than our re­ac­tion to nat­u­ral foods.

3,4 My hope is that we don’t get forced, for the sake of a par­tic­u­lar view about what should rep­re­sent pub­lic health pol­icy, to re­move words that are mean­ing­ful to us about how we man­age our bod­ies. I don’t see a move­ment that is push­ing health­care sys­tems to stop us­ing the term ‘health­care’ when ac­tu­ally ‘ dis­ease man­age­ment’ or ‘phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal man­age­ment of dis­ease’ might bet­ter de­scribe the pre­dom­i­nant ac­tiv­ity of our main­stream health­care sys­tems. More than this, ‘nat­u­ral’, while mean­ing dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, is still some­thing the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple can re­late to. It has mean­ing to them, to us.

Above all, science is be­gin­ning to show us that liv­ing nat­u­rally, in the man­ner of the tra­di­tional life­styles found in the five ‘Blue Zones’ of Ok­i­nawa (Japan), Ikaria

5 (Greece), Sar­dinia (Italy), Ni­coya (Costa Rica) and Loma Linda (Cal­i­for­nia), help us to live more healthily and longer than those liv­ing less nat­u­ral lives.

You can rest as­sured that the peo­ple of these cul­tures don’t have their elders telling them that breast­feed­ing shouldn’t be pro­moted as ‘nat­u­ral’!

Ref­er­ences for this ar­ti­cle may be found on­line at www.liv­ing­now.com. au - search for au­thor name or any key words. n

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