Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Perfect Food: Part 3a

For Nigel …

DISCLAIMER:  This post is NOT about mothers who physically or physiologically cannot nurse because of a medical or other condition. They are a special case, and are the exact reason there needs to be a healthful alternative to breastmilk for infants (though I’d prefer to see more milk banks, instead of formula companies, to help children of mother’s who cannot nurse).

A Brief History of Formula:

All of the information I am about to lay out here was gathered from the sources at the end of this post .  Check them out for yourselves.  You’ll learn a lot more than I’m prepared to educate you here.

Before we can get into the history of formula, we need to look at wet nursing, as this was the viable option for mothers who couldn't nurse prior to the invention of baby formula.  The history of wet nursing is probably as old as nursing itself, in fact.  Surely, in all cultures across all time there were women who for some reason or another (more often than not that reason being they died during childbirth) could not nurse their own offspring.  Other women in the tribe or community would have stepped in to ensure the child’s survival.  It’s good to be part of a tribe, yes?  According to sources, many ancient cultures, including Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, feature myths involving superhuman, supernatural, and even animal wet nurses.  It appears that later, in the 17th and 18th century Europe, wet nursing was commonplace.  One can speculate (though if one had more time one would actually do more research and wouldn’t need to speculate) that if wet nursing was “commonplace” during this time period, the employment of wet nurses expanded beyond helping out mothers who couldn’t physiologically nurse to allowing mothers who did not want to nurse another option.  Interestingly, along with wet nursing, there was also the use of cross-nursing or co-nursing, where lactating mothers would nurse each others babies. 

While researching wet nursing, I found a little nugget from The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau, “The divided self is another concept common to Pascal and Rousseau … Rousseau’s divisions flow from the contrast between the amour de soi (love of self) that is naturally given to us and the amour-propre (selfishness) into which our natural drives are transformed by society.  Humans in the state of nature are similar to other animals insofar as they express love of themselves by seeking to avoid pain and to safeguard their well-being.  They are not selfish, however; they do not compare themselves with other persons, they do not suffer from envy or petty pride.  On the contrary, they instinctually empathize with others who suffer, pity being one of the few innate traits of human nature.  Contemporary evidence of how love of self combines with concern for others may be seen in the practice of breast-feeding, which is why Rousseau did his best – and with some success – to convince aristocratic women to stop using wet nurses.  The mother acts as agent of our not entirely lost natural selves when she breast-feeds her child; she acts as the agent of our socially acquired selves when, some years later, she sends her offspring into the world with the imperative, ‘Achieve.’  Out of love the mother breast-feeds, out of love she wishes her maturing child social success – but this second love is no longer the expression of nature.”   Two things jumped out at me when reading this: (1) I need to start reading more Rousseau – even though French people scare me, and (2) There has been a long standing dichotomy between the natural self and the cultural self, and it’s about damn time we do more contemplation on the implications of this chasm of thought for humanity.

Throughout history, mothers who did not breastfeed and did not use a wet nurse, practiced what was called “dry nursing,” feeding their babies prepared food.  This practice evolved to include feeding babies mixtures based on animal milk (primarily goat, cow and sheep milk).  During the 19th century, dry nursing grew in popularity as the prevalence of wet-nursing diminished.  As per Wikipedia, “This trend was driven by cultural changes …”  I find this to be a rather obvious observation.  These changes would must have been driven by societal forces, because mother nature herself, like my dear husband, prefers boob.  Improvements in sanitation and the development of the “India-rubber nipple” were also complicit in the transition from a nursing culture to a formula-fed one.  And it’s at this time that the wonderful world of processed, manufactured food comes into our little story.  Here’s another quote from Wiki (‘cause I’m lazy), “As early as 1846, scientists and nutritionists noted an increase in medical problems and infant mortality was associated with dry nursing.  In an attempt to improve the quality of manufactured baby foods, in 1867, Justus von Liebig (my notation: yes, his name is “lie” “big”; just sayin’) developed the world’s first commercial infant formula, Liebig’s Soluble Food for Babies.  The success of this product quickly gave rise to competitors such as Mellin’s Infant Food, Ridge’s Food for Infants and Nestle’s Milk.”

It wasn’t long after the invention of these infant formulas that a large number of women decided not to nurse their babies, instead relying on the food industry to nourish their children.  By the 1930s, even many pediatricians held that formula was just as nutritious as breastmilk, and therefore advised mothers to use formula, as a more convenient and efficient means of feeing their young.  Pediatricians were not well-educated regarding breastfeeding, and relied on the information provided to them by representatives of infant manufacturers as the basis for their approach to infant feeding (reminds me of doctors who rely on pharmaceutical reps for information on new drugs, instead of diving deep into the research literature and figuring things out for themselves).  Infant formula was touted as a scientific product, and doctors and mothers bought into this marketing.  And, here’s the crux.  Here’s the moment when “science” beats down “nature.”  Here’s where hubris takes hold of the human mind.  You can’t outthink or outperform nature (or millions of years of evolution).  She’s gonna kick you in the nads every time.

As a result, the incidence of breastfeeding dramatically decreased throughout the mid-twentieth century.  It took less than a 100 years to go from “commonplace” (so much so that women who couldn’t nurse employed other women to nurse in their stead) to “unscientific” and uncommon.   Many women forwent nursing for convenience, and I think this is a major motivator today.  I think women, and probably many doctors, still believe that formula is on par with breastmilk, and therefore can be used instead without even the slightest hesitation.  It’s likely not a coincidence that the use of bottle-feeding increased, as women began to enter the workforce.  And though infant formula has it’s merits and is constantly being improved upon, there are many benefits that are unique to breastfeeding.

There much more to the story, and I'll get to that in my next post.



Friday, February 10, 2012

The Perfect Food: Part 2

Here's the thing about this perfect food, breastmilk.  Please look over your shoulder before you read on ... because ... shhhhh ... most of today's society doesn't really want you to nurse your child (and especially not your toddler!).  It's icky.  It makes people uncomfortable.  One dares not do it in public.  Many feel they can make judgments about when, where, how often, for how long, and until what age you can nurse, when this is purely a parental decision. 

This whole breastfeeding backlash (which may be as old as modernity itself) is at the heart of a growing separation, delineation, and division between human beings and their biology, their physiology, and their fucking God-given bodies.  And just like in other areas of human biology (like nutrition and sleep) where humans exist in states of being that are not complementary with their evolved physiology, lack of breastfeeding directly contributes to poor health (the very epidemic of poor health that is swallowing this country, in fact) devouring the citizenry, denying them the freedom and prosperity of good health. 

People don’t acknowledge that humans are mammals (you know, ‘cause we have mammary glands, i.e. breasts!).  This "perfect food" comes in a perfect container (containers men obsess over, perhaps because they didn’t get adequate access as a little one, or maybe just because breasts are awesome – even if many men don’t really get why). 

Evolution selected for humans to be able to easily carry their young over great distances efficiently, which meant that having a bagged lunch all the time was a great advantage for human mamas.  As I stated, there's a clear sexual obsession with these amazing vessels of life-blood, which I think clouds the view of the breast.  Many see breasts as sexual in all settings and circumstances.  The concept of the beast as a tool to feed and nurture our children creates too much cognitive dissonance for these people. 

But people need to step up and accept the complexity of the human situation.  We live in this modern world with all of its guts and glories, but our bodies were designed to live thousands of years ago.  This is Darwinism.  It's hard to deny.  Soooooo ... we need to stop fucking denying it!  Doing so is only making people fatter, sicker and deader.

We must not deny the human nature of others, either.  Breastfeeding should be welcomed into public life, and seen as the living and beneficial exchange that it is.  We need to support the mothers who are making the choice to best nourish for their young children, not ostracize and marginalize them.  In fact, we should be celebrating this beautiful exchange between mother and child (not hiding the “obscenity”).  What’s obscene is people who deny (or hate) who they actually are:  human animals.

Next up:  Part 3 of this series will look at today’s industrial food industry that claims to have created an equivalent substance (i.e. formula) that saves parents time and effort, and generates amazing profits by feeding on the disconnect between modern humans and their bodies.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Perfect Food: Part 1

Some critics of the Paleo diet posit that there are not any foodstuffs in today’s nutritional landscape that we can be certain were eaten during the Paleolithic era.  The critic explains that the environment in which we live is vastly different from the Paleolithic, many animals that were eaten then are now extinct, the plant foods that are now grown often lack nutrients that would have been abundant eons ago due to soil depletion, even organic fruits and vegetables tend to contain some toxins that also would not have been prevalent in the Paleolithic period, etc.  Furthermore, many argue that making it impossible to develop a true Paleo diet.  Granted these critics are totally missing the point of ancestral diets; they are also wrong.  There is one food that we eat today that has been available, likely in the same or very similar form, since the dawn of man: one perfect food.  At that food is breast milk.

It is a perfect food for a multitude of reasons, but today’s post is going to focus on its nutritional superiority.  Here’s a short list of human milk’s unique nutrition (taken fromhttp://www.askdrsears.com/topics/breastfeeding/why-breast-best/nutrient-nutrient-why-breast-best):
  • High-quality protein – though the percentage of protein in human milk is relatively low (for good reason – we are carrier mammals, meant to keep our young with us at all times and if they grew too large too fast, mamas would not be able to easily keep their young close by and to carry their little ones when needed).  One amino acid in high concentration in breastmilk, however, is taurine, which is critical for both brain and eye development.  The body can’t easily convert other amino acids into taurine, so it is very important for babies to get this amino acid through breastmilk.  The proteins in human milk (primarily whey, as opposed to casein) are also easily digested (thus why little ones are often ready for another feeding not long after finishing their last “meal”).
  • Self-digesting fats – human milk contains lipase, an enzyme that helps break down fat into a form that can be easily absorbed into the bloodstream.  This is essential for little bodies with maturing digestive systems.  This fat provides the little ones with the constant energy they need to develop.
  • Nutritional plasticity – the fat (and nutrient) content of human milk changes as needed, and even changes during a feeding.  Foremilk is generally lower in fat and has a thirst-quenching element to it for the nursling, while hindmilk, coming later in the feeding is higher in fat.
  • Brain-building fats – all of the nerves in the brain are covered in myelin, which assists in efficient electrical communication within the brain and body.  Myelin development requires two specific types of fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic, both of which are abundant in breast milk.  In addition to these fatty acids, human milk contains ample amounts of DHA (docasahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that is vital to the growth and development of neural tissue.
  • Vitamin and mineral bioavailability – the nutrients in breastmilk have been designed via evolution to be readily absorbed and used by the baby’s digestive and circulatory systems.  “For example, 50 to 75 percent of the iron in breastmilk is absorbed by the baby. With formula, as little as 4 percent of the iron is absorbed into baby's bloodstream.”  Additionally, nutrients in breast milk exist in ratios that compliment each other.  The Vitamin C in human milk increases the absorption of zinc, for example.
  • Hormones and enzymes – in addition to lipase, other enzymes exist in breast milk that help the nursling to digest it.  Additionally, breast milk contains hormones, like Epidermal Growth Factor (useful in the development of the digestive tract in addition to regulating cell growth, differentiation and proliferation – per Wikipedia), in significant amounts.
  • Beneficial bacteria – this milk also contains “Bifidus factor, one of the oldest known disease-resistance factors in human milk, promotes the growth of a beneficial organism named Lactobacillus bifidus.” (quote from http://www.kellymom.com/newman/how_breastmilk_protects_newborns.html)
  • Immune boosters – One drop of breastmilk contains “one million white blood cells” called macrophages that help babies fight germs.  Human milk also contains IgA, which helps coat and protect the immature lining of the large intestine (this not only helps with fighting infection, but also helps prevent allergies because allergens are unable to sneak into the bloodstream due to IgA’s coating of the gut lining).  As if this wasn’t enough, moms can also manufacture antibodies to germs their little ones were exposed to and deliver those antibodies to their littles through nursing.
  • Health benefits for the mama – studies (albeit most epidemiological) show that nursing moms, (1) have a reduced risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer, (2) have a reduced risk for osteoporosis, (3) experience less postpartum depression, (4) have an easier time losing baby weight, and (5) save money by not purchasing formula.
This truly is a short list.  There is additional information available on the benefits of breastfeeding, the amazing nutritional content and benefits of human milk; and science continues to discover new beneficial components in breast milk year after year. 

Part 2 of this series will look at other aspects of breastfeeding, further examining this amazing part of human physiology that has been perfected through ages of evolution, only to be marginalized by modern society, primarily driven by (1) a culture that has lost touch with humanity’s animalistic, mammalian composition, and (2) today’s industrial food industry that claims to have created an equivalent substance (i.e. formula) that saves parents time and effort, and generates amazing profits by feeding on the disconnect between modern humans and their bodies.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Link to an interesting article ...

How Stress is Really Hurting Our Kids by Thomas Roberts of Salon.com

The article includes an interview with an expert on this topic.  The following question/answer struck me as worthy of posting here:

We also live in a modern society with a lot of advantages that humans in previous centuries and thousands of years did not. Children in the Stone Age were exposed to a tremendous amount of trauma on a daily basis. Doesn’t that suggest we should have evolved to deal with this by now?
They experienced stress for certain. Potentially trauma, yes. But the reality was that in place was a family, in place was a tribe, in place was a village that provided the stability and the regular protection of that little nervous system. A child might be traumatized by a saber-tooth tiger or whatever your fantasy is, but the familial system and the extended family were in place to pull that kid in. There was no, “Oh, that’s that person’s kid, I won’t touch them because I might get sued.” That provides some of the pieces of attachment that are so critical to building that little nervous system competently.

My New Year's Resolution:  I resolve to continue to develop and nurture strong, lasting bonds with our tribes (i.e. close friends and family) that help both me and my child feel connected and protected.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Tribal Reunions

I'm smiling ... more so than usual.  My newly two year old son is laughing and playing with his older sister and brother. He manages to look at me with an expression on his face saying, "This is friggin great!". Lately, he's been getting lots of quality time with his siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends ... people he doesn't see enough on a regular basis.  He hasn't figured it out yet, but he understands in his subconscious (or perhaps in his soul) that the magic of this time of year is all about the tribe.  

It's reunion time again, finally. It's that special time of year when we reconnect with our tribes, our family, people with whom we share ancestry, bloodlines, genetics, perspectives.  It runs deep.  Hunter acts very differently around family (and family friends).  He warms up quickly.  He beams in their presence.  We all seem more at home and at peace in each other's company, even as we're driving each other crazy.

Historically, traditionally, extended families lived together or in close proximity to each other.  Perhaps something has been lost by our self-imposed division of extended family.  Technology has only assisted in exacerbating our isolation.  Sure, I can text my sister, call my mom, check my cousin's facebook status, read my friend's latest blogpost, in minutes, with the mere touch of a finger, but I'd rather give each one of them a hug, I'd rather see their facial expressions as we talk and laugh.

I'm glad that I can enjoy lots of laughing, talking and hugging with my tribes this time of year.  I need to consciously parlay this into a more regular thing for us.

Humans need tribes.  We evolved that way and our physiologies (and perhaps our souls) crave this form of interconnectedness and interdependence.  

Happy Holiday Tribal Reunions!

Friday, December 16, 2011

What is food?

What is food?  It’s kind of sad that this question must be asked and answered, but most people have clearly lost a sense of its definition.  The fact that the definition of food, something so essential to human life, is misunderstood by the public at large is at the heart of the problem with the current state of human health.

So, what is food?  A quick internet search found the following definition: “Any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/food).

So the purpose of food is to be nourishing, to sustain life, to provide energy and to promote growth.  Outside of providing energy, I would say most of the Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated SAD) is not food.  It certainly isn’t what I call real food.

Real food is nourishing, sustains life (healthy, vibrant life), provides energy (not a spike in energy quickly followed by dips in energy, but sustained energy), and promotes growth (of muscle, bones, healthy cells, beneficial bacteria, hormones, etc.).  Real food fulfills the very definition of food.  Fake food (i.e. processed foods like frozen dinners, pizza, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, English muffins, waffles, bottled salad dressings, etc) is not nourishing, barely sustains life (and leads to diseases that diminish life), both provides and robs the body of energy, and does not promote growth of anything except adipose tissue.

So, for the real food impaired, here are a few ways to recognize real food:

Real food was alive once.  It grew in the ground or was a living animal eating it’s natural diet and doing it’s natural thing.
Real food doesn’t need an advertising campaign.
Real food usually doesn’t need packaging, but if it does, it usually doesn’t have more than one or two ingredients (ex. cheese – ingredients are milk, rennet, enzymes; almonds – ingredients are almonds, etc.).
Real food is food that your great, great grandparents and every generation before them ate and thrived eating.
Real food is organic.
Real food takes time to prepare in your kitchen.
Real food is damn tasty (not fake tasty, using chemicals like msg and chemically manipulated “natural flavors”).
Real food doesn’t give you a headache, or bloating, or constipation, or the runs when you eat it.
Real food is ... real.