May 3, 2017
When making decisions that affect your health, and the health of your children, it’s important they are grounded on clear, fact-based information, and not influenced by those who may stand to gain financially. In past years, this was sufficiently demonstrated in results from industry-funded studies that are widely divergent from results of non-industry biased studies.1
For instance, studies funded by the sugar industry claimed fats were the primary trigger for heart disease, when research has demonstrated it is sugar and trans fats that are the culprit. For years the tobacco industry hid the dangers of lung cancer. This misinformation damaged the health of innumerable individuals.
Breastfeeding has suffered some of the same erroneous advice over the years. Following the development of manufactured infant formula, mothers were advised to bottle feed in order to improve the health of their children. Today, multiple studies demonstrate breastfeeding is more beneficial, both for you and your baby.
A recent bioethical (ethics in medical and biological research) argument in the journal Pediatrics now advises pediatricians it’s time to stop referring to breastfeeding as something “natural.”2 However, while the article focuses on breastfeeding, the intent appears to be aimed at bolstering the vaccine program.
Science Struggling With ‘Natural’
Authors Jessica Martucci, Ph.D., and Anne Barnhill, Ph.D., published a short essay3 in the journal Pediatrics, in which they discuss the use of the word “natural” to describe breastfeeding. Their argument is against using the word and built on a previous publication from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.4
The 109-page Nuffield Council report attempts to classify and understand how the term “natural” may affect an individual’s process in making decisions about health care. They stated:5
“Commending, praising or [favoring] something on the basis of its being natural, or [criticizing], condemning or disapproving of something on the grounds that it is unnatural connects the notion of what is natural with value.”
Using this as a basis for their argument, the authors proceed to recommend the term “natural” not be used as pediatricians encourage new mothers to breastfeed. It is almost opposite of published breastfeeding initiatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics,6 which state:7
“Breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition. Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice.”
It appears the authors’ underlying assumption is that public health initiatives must be built based on the hypothesis individuals cannot differentiate between what is natural or normal and what is healthy. The authors propose:8
“Promoting breastfeeding as “natural” may be ethically problematic and, even more troublingly, it may bolster this belief that “natural” approaches are presumptively healthier. This may ultimately challenge public health’s aims in other contexts, particularly childhood vaccination.”
The Value of ‘Natural’
The definition of natural is “existing in or formed by nature.”9 At no point in this definition is there a value-added implication that natural is healthier. In fact, there are many sources of natural products that are not safe, not the least of which is the opium poppy and the natural source of opiate drugs.10
In an article published months after the initial piece in the journal Pediatrics, Martucci describes the backlash she and her colleague experienced. She described how many groups took offense to the way her article defined individuals who believe in working with the body to promote health, as opposed to starting with technology to treat illness. In the original article, Martucci and Barnhill wrote:
“Studies have shown that parents who resist vaccination tend to inhabit networks of like-minded individuals with similar beliefs.
These pockets of anti-vaccination sentiment tend to overlap with reliance on and interest in complementary and alternative medicine, skepticism of institutional authority, and a strong commitment and interest in health knowledge, autonomy and healthy living practices.”
While the authors may have meant this statement negatively, it is a strong assessment of the change in thinking currently underway. No longer are physicians and institutions given carte blanche to determine what is best for your health. Instead, individuals are taking responsibility to become educated in how to maintain their own health.
In her rebuttal, Martucci described herself as a “natural motherhood sympathizer,” until the article in Pediatrics was published.11 She and Barnhill became increasingly disturbed by the way “nature” was used by government agencies addressing public health issues. From this came an observation that ultimately led to their article:12
“The “nature” arguments used by vaccine skeptics to critique public health efforts seemed highly reminiscent of the “nature” arguments used by public health authorities to promote breastfeeding.”
Comparing Apples and Oranges
However well-meaning Martucci and Barnhill’s arguments may appear on the surface, they are comparing two different public health initiatives using their model to imply an inability to recognize the difference between “natural” and “healthy” or “safe,” and comparing the benefits of breastfeeding against the risks associated with vaccination. They write:13
“Meanwhile, synthetic substances, products, and technologies mass produced by industry (notably, vaccines) are seen as “unnatural” and often arouse suspicion and distrust. Part of this value system is the perception that what’s natural is safer, healthier and less risky.”
The juxtaposition between breastfeeding, which has no associated risk, and vaccinations that have a long history of drug-related side effects, is not an accident and likely meant to draw a parallel between the two, insinuating they are both equally safe.
The backlash from the article has focused on the breastfeeding issue. However, the underlying issue may not be the implication that the word “natural” may have an additional value that could possibly influence a health care decision, but rather that it could negatively influence the decision to vaccinate.
It is interesting that both authors14,15 have enjoyed employment at the same institution as Dr. Paul Offit, director of the vaccine education center at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and professor of vaccinology at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Offit’s book, “Autism’s False Prophets,” came under scrutiny after he and his publisher, Columbia University Press, were sued for fabricating an online conversation.16 He has also been widely criticized for profiting millions from royalty payments on a vaccine he invented and promotes heavily.17
Offit more recently has written about eating a gluten free diet. In his article he endorses the benefits of technologically based products, including genetically engineered food, BPA and eating wheat based foods, saying:18
“At Whole Foods, you can buy products guaranteed to be free of: (1) one of the most important scientific advances in the 20th century (‘GMO-free’); (2) a chemical resin that the Food and Drug Administration as well as every other regulatory agency that has weighed in on this subject has declared safe (‘BPA-free’); and (3) a component of wheat that causes a disease that affects about 1 percent of the American population (‘gluten-free’).”
Is It Possible to Be Too Clean?
As civilization moved from living outdoors, in the dirt and under the sun, to inside buildings, our children have had less exposure to a variety of germs.
This reduction in exposure may have led to an increase in illness and disease. Most parents worry about the germs their children may pick up from floors, dropped pacifiers and toys, but exposure to some germs may actually help to develop a more robust immune system by seeding the gut microbiome.19
A recent study20 compared the immune systems of children who grew up in an Amish community, generally on small single family farms, with Hutterite children who are genetically similar but live on more industrialized farms. They found the Amish children, whose environment was rich in a variety of microbes, had unusually lower rates of asthma than their research counterparts.
While there is no question that improved hygiene has saved many children and adults from illness, disease and infection, the movement to eradicate all germs in your immediate area may have backfired. Vaccinations are the pharmaceutical industry’s answer to correct the situation. However, the options pumped out by drug companies do not address the complexities of your body’s response to germs as discussed in the video below, and are not the solution.
Studies now demonstrate it is important to strike a balance between protection from rampant illness and creating a sterile environment where the immune system is not challenged to develop normally. Seeding the microbiome of children is critical to a vigorous immune system, which infants receive through breastfeeding.21
Drug companies were granted immunity against vaccine injuries and deaths after the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court determined licensed vaccines were unavoidably unsafe.22 This essentially became a “free pass,” protecting manufacturers and physicians against those seeking to sue for death or injury resulting from a vaccination. In this interview, Dr. Suzanne Humphries dismantles the historical arguments used to defend vaccines.
Without legal liability, pharmaceutical companies are free to release vaccines that are poorly tested and have produced dubious results. However, poor performance is not the only negative effect. Included with the active ingredient, all vaccines contain some combination of suspending fluid, preservative, stabilizer and enhancers (adjuvants).23 One of the more common adjuvants or enhancers, used in attenuated vaccines delivered to neurologically developing children, is aluminum.
“Aluminum is an experimentally demonstrated neurotoxin and the most commonly used vaccine adjuvant. Despite almost 90 years of widespread use of aluminum adjuvants, medical science’s understanding about their mechanisms of action is still remarkably poor. There is also a concerning scarcity of data on toxicology and pharmacokinetics of these compounds.
In spite of this, the notion that aluminum in vaccines is safe appears to be widely accepted. Experimental research, however, clearly shows that aluminum adjuvants have a potential to induce serious immunological disorders in humans. In particular, aluminum in adjuvant form carries a risk for autoimmunity, long-term brain inflammation and associated neurological complications and may thus have profound and widespread adverse health consequences.”
Offit argues that “aluminum is an essential metal … believed to play an important role in the development of a healthy fetus.”25 However, he is in the minority, as most scientists not associated with the vaccine industry acknowledge that while aluminum is found in most humans, it is not required by biological systems, nor does it participate in biological processes.26
Studies have demonstrated the lack of participation in the biological process,27 and its neurotoxic results in the body.28,29 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also clearly states the action of aluminum inside a child’s body is not the same as in an adult, as children are not neurologically mature, have an increased susceptibility to hazardous chemicals, and their unique physiology influences the results of exposure.30
Today, American children are the most highly vaccinated in the world — and the most chronically ill. The CDC reports 1 in 6 children, or 16 percent, have learning disabilities, while in 1976 the prevalence was less than 1 percent.31 In that same period between 1976 and 2008, the number of vaccines children received more than doubled.
Exposure to aluminum is only one of the identified health challenges associated with vaccinations, for both children and adults. Removing the word “natural” from recommendations to breastfeed will not change the side effects from the vaccine program in the U.S. It is more important to use public health initiatives to educate individuals about the fact-based risks and benefits to any healthcare choice.
Infant formula, created in a lab, cannot replace breast milk when it comes to providing exactly what your baby needs, at the time they need it. Breast milk is produced based on your baby’s growing requirements, unlike infant formula which cannot accommodate your child’s nutritional needs.
Breast milk is loaded with nutrient growth factors that prime your child’s gut to promote the growth of a healthy microbiome and thus a healthy immune system. Breast milk also contains the exact amount of cholesterol your child’s brain needs for optimal neurological development. Breastfed babies also have fewer ear, respiratory, stomach and intestinal infections than their formula-fed counterparts.
Breastfeeding benefits the mother too, as it helps burn more calories and shed “baby weight,” and may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.32 The additional load on your metabolism may lower a diabetic’s requirement for insulin, and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you suffered from gestational diabetes during pregnancy.33
While breastfeeding is a natural and healthy means of meeting your child’s nutritional needs, it is important to note your child’s nutrition is dependent upon what you consume. Some drugs will pass from mother to child through breast milk, for example, making the process of breastfeeding natural, but only as safe and healthy as the foods and medications you consume.
Martucci’s and Barnhill’s argument that there is value added to the term “natural” in our society, thus making it a dangerous word to use in public health initiatives, is not a reasonable assumption. Instead, it is important to provide fact-based information to ensure safe health care decisions are made, regardless of whether the choices are natural or created in a laboratory.
When it comes to breastfeeding, there’s simply no doubt that it is the healthiest and safest choice available for the vast majority of women and children, and I find it truly disturbing that Martucci and Barnhill would risk undermining the global effort to promote and increase breastfeeding, as it is a crucial component of optimal health.
Considering the fact that babies have been successfully raised on breast milk since the dawn of mankind, it stands to reason that breastfeeding is as natural as it gets, and that breast milk is an ideal, healthy and safe food, providing a growing infant with everything it needs.