Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Higher Vitamin C in Breast milk reduces allergy

Next week I am down at EIT teaching on biochemistry of breast feeding as part of their Postgraduate Certificate in Health Science (Breast Feeding and Lactation) run by Kathy Manhire. To me it is a great day where research and biochemistry is communicated to people who make a difference in the community. And even better this helps the next generation of babies.

I found an article that looks at vitamin C levels in breast milk and there correlation with allergy. The use the word atopy which is "an allergic hypersensitivity affecting parts of the body not in direct contact with the allergen." So think of things like eczema, asthma, food allergy's, allergic rashes etc. These allergy's have been on the rise in the Western world over the last few decades.

The article discusses how vitamin C is an antioxidant and allergy disease effects are reduced with increased vitamin C intake. And that people with allergy need more anti oxidants to keep their free radical level down. So they looked at relationship between vitamin C in the breast milk and babies with atopy. They defined atopy to be dermatitis in the first 12 months of life and a positive result to an allergy test (pin prick test) at 12 months of age.

Interesting enough there was very statistically significant result. Those who children had developed atopy, their breast milk was 5.2 mg/100ml of milk with a 95% confidence level of 4.6-5.7. That means that 95% of all samples would fall in the 4.6-5. 7 range.

The children with out atopy had breast milk vitamin C levels of 6.2 mg/100ml milk with a 95% confidence levels of 5.8-6.6.

Below is a graph that I created for my book, I have changed the milk scale to make it the same scale is the above numbers. The lines are not lines of best fit, but my eyeballed approximation. You can see there is a a rapid increase phase followed by a phase of minimal increase. This would hint at a active process getting vitamin C into the milk, followed by a passive process, likely diffusion.

So zooming into the area of interest, we get the following graph (this is now a line of best fit). Drawing on the graph the lines for the 5.2 and 6.2 mg/100ml of milk levels discussed above, we get the following graph:

So what does this mean is real life? So what we are talking about is a rise in maternal intake of 35mg per day, or a total intake of 165mg per day. I have already shown how ridiculous the food tables are for vitamin C in oranges. However currently this is all we have to go on. So using the previous post's level of vitamin C in oranges of 70mg/orange, the 35mg/day increase is only half and orange. Or a total of 2 1/2 oranges a day. Now I would only rely on citrus fruits for vitamin C when they are in season.

Other fruits and vegetables sit in the 30-40 mg/100 grams range. So you would need to eat 550-400 grams of in season fruits and vegetables a day. A standard cup measure is 250ml, so you would need to eat two full cups of vegetables a day. I suggest that you got get a 250 ml cup and full it to the top with something like frozen vegetables which pack together really nice, and then tip this out onto a plate. A 250ml / 250gm serving of vegetables or fruit is a rather large serving, far greater than a serving under the 5+ a day marketing.

In conclusion I would hypothesis that the increase in allergic reactions over the last decades has been in part (health is more complex than we think) caused by a decrease in the vitamin C in the food, and a decrease in our culture of eating fresh, locally grown produce in season. Hence a drop in vitamin C in breast milk.

PS My book (yes it is coming) unpacks why the vitamin C level has dropped in food, so I will not explain it here.

Full reference:Hoppu U, Rinne M, Salo-Väänänen P, Lampi AM, Piironen V, Isolauri E Vitamin C in breast milk may reduce the risk of atopy in the infant. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jan;59(1):123-8.

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