Why are we getting so fat? a letter to Prof Giles Yeo

Maureen MinchinBottle Feeding, Child Health, Complementary Feeding, General News, Growth, Immunology, Infant Formula, Infant Health, Microbiome, Milk Hypothesis, Milk Matters, Weaning

Dear Prof Yeo,

I enjoyed the SBS-screened documentary, Why are we getting so fat? It was great to see an academic getting out to where people are, and listening. I would really like to make a time to chat by skype or meet when in the UK on a lecture tour. You just might listen to what I have to say! which all began in listening to 100+ families around 1980+.

Why should you? Because I think a milk hypothesis is a crucial missing piece in the field you are researching (along with many other related fields.) And there are not many people who have been keeping up with all the research on human milk, or know much about the reality of infant formula, both rapidly-expanding specialised fields very relevant to obesity research. [The milk hypothesis is that early exclusive breastfeeding is a highly evolved bridge between the womb and the world; that it is necessary for normal development and adaptation to the specific environment that milk samples and present to the child in manageable doses, along with the right mix of bioactives and nutrients for healthy response. And that the harms of not being solely breastfed in the period of pioneer colonisation and gut structural development result in compounding intergenerational damage, as we all began in our grandmother’s womb, and each generation’s gestation and feeding history influences outcomes.]

Infant feeding could explain Teresa’s story of the faecal transfer that made her fat: a daughter programmed for obesity by her infant feeding lives with a microbiome that keeps her fat, and passes it back to her mother. Long before the video showed her image, I knew that daughter would have been obese from childhood, and I am sure that if you unearth truthful details of that child’s early life, infant formula will feature largely in the critical early days of pioneer microbial colonisation of the permeable gut. (Permeable to allow the passage of milk’s maternal cells , including pluripotent stem cells capable of repair work, and hormones to regulate appetite, etc .) Even if there had been token breastfeeding initially, the daughter will almost certainly have been formula exposed in hospital and solely breastfed – if at all – for at most a few months. And Teresa herself was almost certainly formula-fed, when she has suffered gut problems through life and also gestated a daughter so sensitive to aberrant programming. Effects seem to compound through families.

Infant feeding could explain much more. Tim Spector’s twins are a useful, but possibly also misleading, model unless the detail of the circumstances surrounding twin births and feeding and care is understood for each individual case. SImply controlling for the duration of breastfeeding or the age of introduction of solids (even that is not always done) is inadequate to capture the harms that are likely to have been done to their development by infant feeding practices. Between Carol and Joy, which was the smaller twin, who had longer in ICU, was fortifier used if one/both were breastfed, how useful, what brands of formula, what protein level…but also how dangerous might Cristensenella be if it results in a woman looking like Joy – at first glance, hardly the image of health… I had lots of questions there.

Paediatricians are routinely overfeeding the most vulnerable of babies in an effort to get them home, away from the dangers of ICU pathogens (largely carried in the nasal passages fo staff, one report said.) Catch up growth produced by artificial bottle feeds of higher caloric feeds results in very different bodies than does catchup growth from fresh breastmilk with its growth promoters, hormones, enzymes, and very low protein content. Industry is religiously reducing the protein content of formulas, but thanks to the poorer bioavailability of such protein, cannot reduce it to the levels that breastmilk provides (and about 10% of breastmilk protein is excreted, btw, as its function is protective, not nutritional.) Some preterm formulas actually contain more than term ones for bigger bodies. That excess protein can be responsible for obesity is well understood (Melnik spells it out), and levels have already halved over time. Too late for those already exposed, AND for the children they have gestated in bodies programmed for obesity since infancy, and entering pregnancy overweight or obese.

What many researchers in relevant fields fail to recognise is that formula feeding is a constantly changing unmonitored experiment that has flown under the radar of independent scientific scrutiny because of its social necessity. As one FDA scientist said to me in the 1980s, defending a plagiarised and biassed report, “We have to reassure parents that American formula is safe, because American society depends on bottle feeding.” True, alas. But not immutable.

Researchers fail to realise that the harms formula feeding creates relate to four categories:
– what is in breastmilk and not in formula (thousands of bioactive factors, including grehlin..)
– what the absence of the process of breastfeeding causes (higher stress levels, different brain modelling)
– what is inevitably in formula and not in breastmilk (very many pro-oxidative compounds for starters)
– what the presence of formula in an infant body does, along with the mode of feeding itself (think greater exposure to oestrogen analogues).

So for example, talk about how breastmilk promotes better cognition should also include how formula makes for worse outcomes: not just say, omega 3 fats  in breastmilk, but for example, higher levels of heavy metals in formulas: manganese, lead, cadmium, aluminum, arsenic…

I have tried to summarise that mountain range of science about infant feeding in an e-book called Infant Formula and Modern Epidemics: the Milk Hypothesis. If you are a digital reader and would like a copy, I can get one to you. This is the theoretical part of a hardback called Milk Matters: infant feeding and immune disorder., available from Book Depository. Or I could supply you with a pdf of the whole book if that would suit better? (On condition that you don’t share it with anyone else without asking me..)

This hypothesis, if proven or even accepted as a precaution, would be an even more inconvenient truth than Al Gore’s, as it would demand societal restructuring to enable breastfeeding for all women, something WEIRD societies currently make difficult to impossible, despite their lip service to the idea that breast is best. It is, indeed, best by a long shot, the difference between a living tissue and a dead industrial powder. But no one really tells parents that, or helps them ensure their babies get the best start in life. In WEIRD nations, normal breastfeeding, as WHO recommends,* is the preserve of the already advantaged, increasing their advantage, and formula feeding helps close poverty traps on the less fortunate.

I’ll hope to hear from you sometime. Meanwhile, keep up the good work, and keep on listening…..

All best wishes,

Maureen Minchin

*exclusive breastfeeding from birth to around 6 months, continued with appropriate foods into the second year and beyond: which is about when the microbiome stabilises…