Concentrations of As, Ca, Cd, Cl, Co, Cr, Cu, F, Fe, Hg, I, K, Mg, Mn, Mo, Na, Ni, P, Pb, Sb, Se, Sn, V, and Zn were determined in human whole milk samples from Guatemala, Hungary, Nigeria, Phillippines, Sweden, and Zaire; in most of these countries, three groups of subjects representing different socioeconomic conditions were studied. Analytical quality control was a primary consideration throughout. The analytical techniques used were atomic absorption spectrophotometry, atomic emission spectrometry with an inductively coupled plasma, colorimetry, electrochemistry, using an ionselective electrode and neutron activation analysis.
The differences between median concentrations of Ca, Cl, Mg, K, Na, and P (minor elements) were lower than 20% among the six countries. Among trace elements, concentrations observed in Filipino milk for As, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, F, Fe, Mn, Mo, Ni, Pb, Sb, Se, and V were higher than for milk samples from other countries. The remaining five countries showed a mixed picture of high and low values. In the case of at least some elements, such as, F, I, Hg, Mn, Pb, and Se, the environment appears to play a major role in determining their concentrations in human milk. The nutritional status of the mother, as reflected by her socioeconomic status, does not appear to influence significantly the breast milk concentrations of minor and trace elements.
Significant differences exist between the actual daily intakes observed in this study and current dietary recommendations made by, for example, WHO and the US National Academy of Sciences. These differences are particularly large (an order of magnitude or more!) for Cr, F, Fe, Mn, and Mo; for other elements, such as, Ca, Cu, Mg, P, and Zn, they amount to at least a factor 2. In the opinion of the present authors, these findings point to the need for a possible reassessment of the dietary requirements of young infants, with respect to minor and trace elements, particularly for the elements Ca, Cr, Cu, F, Fe, Mg, Mn, Mo, P, and Zn.