Adults Drinking Breast Milk: A New Trend in China's Upper Class

Wealthy adults in China drinking breast milkWealthy adults in China drinking breast milkSay you came into a sudden windfall… what would you spend your money on? A bigger house? A nice car? A fancy display case for your collection of antique Beanie Babies?

All reasonable choices. But what about splurging on a tall, refreshing glass of breast milk?

That's right-breast milk. Not for a baby, but for you, a grown-up who presumably has access to other, arguably tastier, beverages, like orange juice and wine. Did I mention wine?

Apparently drinking breast milk is now a growing trend among wealthy adults in China, according to a report by the Chinese newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily. The report has been cited by several other media outlets, including the South China Morning Post and AFP.

Sick adults and others are hiring wet nurses to provide nutritionally rich breast milk for $2,600 a month - about 16,000 yuan - through a domestic staffing agency in the city of Shenzhen, according to AFP.

"Adult (clients) can drink it directly through breastfeeding, or they can always drink it from a breast pump if they feel embarrassed," the company's owner reportedly said. (A company spokesman later told the South China Morning Post that the Southern Metropolis Daily report was false, yet advertisements found by the South China Morning Post seem to indicate otherwise - the ads promote the services of the staffing agency's wet nurses.)

Related: 15 worst processed foods that are ruining our health

Setting aside the issue that apparently some rich folks are paying "to drink it directly" - if any other blogger wants to, er, milk that, go right ahead but I'm keeping away - news that adults are consuming a fluid normally reserved for babies has prompted disgust both in China and abroad.

"I think this is truly idiotic," David L. Katz, the director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, told me in an email. "Since this (trend) does turn women into the equivalent of bipedal cows, I do find it both bizarre and somewhat disturbing."

There have been scant reports about breast milk consumption being beneficial for adults. A 2004 Seattle Times story quoted an official at a California milk bank as saying that it helps ease the side effects of chemotherapy, bolster immune systems and improve digestion in sick adults. It also noted work by Swedish researchers who said that the milk killed cancer cells in a test tube.

But Katz dismisses such claims, citing a lack of evidence.

"[There's] nothing that comes even close to evidence ready for prime time, or indications of any likely benefit for the population at large," he said.

Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns because it provides, "the perfect formula for the rapid growth, high metabolic rate, and brain development of infancy," Katz said. "Nature itself has 'determined'-by turning on the genes for lactose digestion in infancy, and turning them off at the time of weaning-that breast milk is NOT an appropriate food for the adult of any species."

Adults have experimented with breast milk consumption in the past. There was the chef who made breast milk cheese in 2010, the British ice cream shop that made used breast milk as an ingredient that same year and the blogger who decided to go on an all-breast milk diet in 2011. Those efforts also prompted rebukes, including some from breast milk advocates, who have argued that any woman with extra milk should donate to infants in need-not adults.

"There are children in the USA and all over the world who would benefit from this couple donating their breast milk," Martin Binks, clinical director of Binks Behavioral Health, told ABC News in 2011. "The value of breast milk is well-documented in improving the health of babies and not all babies have access to sufficient breast milk."

So back to you and your sudden imaginary influx of cash: Better just buy a car.

- By Alice Gomstyn
For the 25 healthiest foods for under $1, visit Babble!

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