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J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2007 Dec;10(8):597-609.

Environmental chemicals: from the environment to food, to breast milk, to the infant.

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  • 1National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia 30341, USA.


Food is a source of exposure to many environmental chemicals found in human milk and other biological specimens. Ingestion of foods containing high amounts of animal fat is the main route of human exposure to lipophilic chemicals, such as persistent organic pollutants, which tend to bioaccumulate in the lipid compartment. Bioaccumulation results in increased exposure of these chemicals for humans, but particularly to breastfeeding infants, who are at the top of the food chain. The extent to which food contributes to a person's overall exposure depends on individual dietary habits and the concentrations of chemical residues in the food. These, in turn, are affected by (1) application methods, (2) properties and amounts of the chemical, and (3) preparation, handling, and the properties of the food. Once the food is ingested by the lactating woman, the chemical's pharmacokinetics and the transport mechanisms producing the movement of solutes across mammary alveolar cells determine the passage of chemicals from the blood to the milk. Thus, several factors affect the presence in human milk of environmental chemicals from dietary sources.

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