Unexpected Use of Human Milk
by Anne Eglash MD, IBCLC, FABM
For centuries various cultures have used human milk for a variety of health problems. In fact, before ‘modern’ medicine, human milk was probably the most effective strategy for infant and child survival. Now that we understand how amazing breastmilk is, with its bioactive factors that influence the immune system, it makes sense that scientists would study the effectiveness of its components for various disease processes. Many of us have heard that breastmilk can be used for problems such as sore nipples or eye infections, and the IABLE CQW #130 reviewed evidence for the use of human milk to speed umbilical cord stump separation after birth. The article for this week is a systematic review of largely randomized controlled trials investigating breastmilk for a variety of health conditions. The authors point out that human milk is relatively easy to study because it is low cost, easily available, and does not have significant side effects.
- There is good evidence that topical breastmilk for diaper dermatitis is just as good or better than topical 1% hydrocortisone.
- Topical use of breastmilk on sore open nipples, followed by air drying, has been shown to promote much faster healing time as compared to topical lanolin.
- Breastmilk has been shown to help prevent corneal sores in dry eye syndrome.
- Breastmilk has been shown to be effective for the treatment of conjunctivitis.
- Hamlet is the term for a natural protein compound from breastmilk that is largely studied for its effect on dementia.
- Breastmilk has the epidermal growth factor that may promote growth and repair of skin cells.
See the Answer
Human breast milk provides a child with complete nutrition but is also a popular therapeutic remedy that has been used in traditional, natural pharmacopeia, and ethnomedicine for many years. The aim of this current review is to summarize studies of non-nutritional uses of mothers’ milk.
Two databases (PubMed and Google Scholar) were searched with a combination of twelve search terms. We selected articles that were published between 1 January 2010, and 1 January 2019. The language of publication was limited to English.
Fifteen studies were included in the systematic review. Ten of these were randomized controlled trials, one was a quasi-experimental study, two were in vitro studies, and four employed an animal research model.
Many human milk components have shown promise in preclinical studies and are undergoing active clinical evaluation. The protective and treatment role of fresh breast milk is particularly important in areas where mothers and infants do not have ready access to medicine.
Topical breastmilk on open sore nipples, followed by air drying, has not been shown to be more effective for wound healing than other topical measures.
HAMLET stands for Human Alphalactalbumin Made LEthal to Tumor cells. It is a naturally occurring compound from the combination of the human milk protein alpha-lactalbumin and oleic acid.
There have been many clinical trials showing promise in its effectiveness against many cancers including glioblastoma multiforme, bladder cancer, colon cancer, and cervical cancer.
My most common non-nutritive use of breastmilk is for my patients with dacrostenosis (plugged lacrimal duct). When the eyes become too goopy, I find that a few drops into the eye(s) works well to decrease eye drainage.