Research shows toxic metals in Bayelsa women’s breast milk

Researchers at the University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State discovered elevated amounts of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium in the breast milk of diabetes and non-diabetic postpartum moms.

On April 7, 2023, the peer-reviewed paper named ‘Comparison of hazardous heavy metals in the breast milk of diabetic and non-diabetic postpartum moms in Yenagoa, Nigeria’ was published in the PLoS One journal.

In its inorganic form, arsenic is extremely hazardous. The greatest concern to human health from arsenic is contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation, and crop irrigation. Lead is a hazardous element that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust.

Mercury is harmful to human health, providing a particular risk to a child’s development in utero and early in life, whereas cadmium is poisonous to the kidneys, as well as the skeletal and respiratory systems.

The study included 72 diabetes and 72 non-diabetic postpartum mothers from three public hospitals in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State.

According to the researchers, the concentrations of hazardous heavy metals identified in the two groups were above the World Health Organization’s allowable limits, indicating a risk to the health of the mother and neonate.

Heavy metals, they claim, can decrease cytokine production and impair immunity because they bind to albumin and enter breast milk.

“Yenagoa is a seaside town with a staple consumption of charcoal smoked fish, heavy agricultural fertiliser use, and widespread clandestine (illegal) crude oil refining,” the researchers wrote. It is also the location of the Niger Delta’s legal crude oil exploration and petrochemical activity. From 1976 until the present, it has experienced multiple crude oil spills, resulting in environmental damage and the possible release of heavy metals into the ecosystem.

“The study’s researchers wonder if maternal diabetes increases the excretion of toxic heavy metals in breast milk.” A search of major research databases such as MEDLINE, PubMed, and ProQuest turned up only a handful peer-reviewed articles on the issue.

“The research team was motivated by the knowledge gap to conduct a study comparing the concentration of heavy metals in the breast milk of diabetic and non-diabetic postpartum mothers in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria.” This is, to the best of our knowledge, the first study to assess heavy metals in the breast milk of diabetes nursing moms.”

They did, however, note that more toxicological research on mother and child health may be required to corroborate the study’s findings.


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