Breastmilk is a remarkable substance.
It contains healthy bacteria to helps babies develop a healthy gut microbiome, over 100 different prebiotics (food for the good bacteria in the gut), a host of anti-infective factors, hormones, stem cells, enzymes, growth factors, anti-inflammatory factors and more.
Of course, it also contains all the nutrients (e.g. fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals) that babies need too.
Science is only beginning to unravel some of the complexities of breastmilk.
For example, a protein in breastmilk called lactoferrin may help scientists fight antibiotic resistance.
Stem cells in breastmilk may provide scientists with a new ways of harvesting them to research treatment for various conditions, for example spinal injuries, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
In addition, could breastmilk help fight cancer?
Well, science suggests it might!
And, it could be due to a compound called HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made LEthal to Tumour cells).
Here are 5 facts about HAMLET.
#1: HAMLET Is Derived From Most Adundant Protein In Breastmilk
Laboratory experiments have revealed that when the most predominant protein in breastmilk, alphalactalbumin, is mixed with a fatty acid called oleic acid at low pH, HAMLET is formed.
#2: HAMLET Can Attack And Kills Cancer Cells
HAMLET attacks cancer cells in many ways.
Firstly it evades the cancer cell’s outer defence mechanisms.
Secondly it targets the cancer cells ‘power house’ (the mitochondria part of it) and the ‘instruction manual’ (the nucleus part of it).
In doing this, the cancer cell’s energy source is cut off, and it gets programmed to die in a process referred to as apoptosis (programmed cell death).
Astonishingly, tests on animals and humans have shown that HAMLET can kill over 40 different types of cancers.
One small human trial revealed that HAMLET may be helpful at treating bladder cancer. Patients with bladder cancer who received injections of HAMLET experienced a reduction in tumour size after a few days.
HAMLET has also shown promise in successfully treating skin papillomas in humans.
#3: HAMLET Leaves Normal Healthy Cells Unharmed
Importantly, HAMLET only targets and kills cancer cells.
It leaves normal healthy cells unharmed.
Hence it has none of the awful side effects that chemotherapy has.
#4: HAMLET May Form In Breastfed Babies’ Stomachs
It has been hypothesised that HAMLET may form in the acidic environment of breastfed babies’ stomachs.
This is because the acid pH in the stomach of breastfed babies could promote the formation of HAMLET.
#5: It May Not Only Be HAMLET
Breastmilk may contain other important factors to help reduce the risk of cancer.
For example, in 1994 a study found lactoferrin in breastmilk inhibited growth of tumours in mice.
What a truly remarkable substance breastmilk is.
In the words of Dr Stephen Buescher (an infectious disease specialist) human milk is not just food, “it is a highly specialised infant support system.”
I wonder what science will continue to unveil about it.