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Rev Environ Health. 2010 Jul-Sep;25(3):243-53.

Lead levels in human milk and children's health risk: a systematic review.

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  • 1Department of Collective Health, Health Science Center, State University of Londrina, Parana, Brazil.


Lead (Pb), a naturally-occurring element and industrially-produced metal, is highly toxic to children, causing intellectual and behavioral deficits, hyperactivity, fine motor function deficits, decreased intelligence quotient, alteration of hand-eye coordination, and problems in reaction time. Children's exposure to Pb occurs mainly through ingestion of contaminated food, water and soil. Few discussions have been held on the magnitude and potential risk associated with exposure from the consumption of breast milk. Hence, this research was designed to systematically review the scientific literature on published epidemiologic studies, with an emphasis on the study designs and analytical procedures used for Pb assessment in breast milk. From a total of 112 selected articles published since the 1980s, 11 met the inclusion criteria. A review of the data indicated that Pb levels varied from 0.15 to 6.1 microg L(-1) in mature milk samples, from 0.48 to 14.6 microg L(-1) in colostrum samples, and were non-detectable in some samples. The milk/blood ratio, which estimates the mean efficiency transfer of lead from blood to milk, varied between 0.01 and 0.48. The heterogeneity of methods revealed by our assessment of published studies underscores the need for harmonization of study designs and sample collection and analysis protocols to reflect specific exposure scenarios. Human milk seems to be one of the relevant biological matrices for use as a biomarker for assessing children's health risk to Pb poisoning.

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