Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Could You Be Feeding Your Baby and Family Arsenic With Breakfast?

No parent, or any person for that matter, would knowingly eat a food they knew contained the neurotoxin lead. We all know about the toxic effects of lead on the brain (particularly the developing brain of a fetus and infant/young child). However, 80% of infants in the United States, are eating a staple baby food product that is exposing them to potentially dangerous levels of another neurotoxin : arsenic.

Dr Phillip Landrigan, 
Dean of Global Health and Director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai, explained to us ,“Arsenic is a proven human carcinogen, a cancer-causing chemical. It is also a neurotoxin, a chemical that is toxic to the developing brain and nervous system of a young child. ” Landrigan added, “ Both lead and arsenic can cause injuring to the developing brains of children. This injury can result in lowered IQ, shortened attention span and behavioral problems.”

So, what are babies eating that is exposing them to arsenic?

Infant cereal. The non-profit Healthy Babies Bright Futures, recently tested this popular first food. They tested a variety of brands - Gerber, Earth’s Best, BeechNut, Nestlé, Little Duck Organics, Nurture Me, Bio Kinetics and HealthyTime brands, and purchased over 45 unique cereal products, and hundreds of samples from around the country. The team found 6 times more arsenic in infant rice cereal than in other infant cereals. In other words: non-rice and multi-grain varieties on grocery shelves nationwide – including oatmeal, corn, barley, quinoa, and others –were found to contain 84 percent less arsenic than rice cereal, on average.

According to Jane Houlihan, lead author of the study, "(even though) The

American Academy of Pediatrics now advises parents to offer other infant cereal grains like oatmeal, barley and multigrain…Rice cereal is (still) a popular choice for infants. When we shopped for the cereals included in our study, we were surprised by how much shelf space rice cereal continues to take up in the baby food aisle of most grocery stores”. Hands down, it is “ babies’ top source of arsenic, accounting for over half of their total dietary exposure.”

The bad news is not limited to infant rice cereal. Families and children following strict gluten free diets, like mine, may be at risk too. Houlihan explains, “all rice-based foods are a problem when it comes to high arsenic levels, including puffed rice, gluten free rice cakes, cereal bars, and other snacks sweetened with rice syrup.” Also included? Popular gluten free options like GF rice based pasta, GF granola, GF cookies and rice crackers, GF bread, GF waffles and - of course- rice.

Unfortunately this study, although alarming, is not the first time we have been warned about arsenic in rice and rice products.

Back in 2011, then 2012 and then later in 2016 I wrote about studies that had found potentially dangerous levels of arsenic in certain rice products, including baby infant cereal. It is very sad and disheartening when study after study is done showing a proven dangerous chemical in an everyday baby and child (and many adult) staples - and nothing is done about it. Clearly the system is broken (for more on what you can do scroll to the end of this post).

The 411 on Arsenic

Arsenic is produced naturally in the Earth ( this type is called organic arsenic). However “natural” does not equal safe. Organic arsenic has been labeled as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Inorganic arsenic is of even more concern. Inorganic arsenic, is ranked by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as one of more than 100 substances that are Group 1 carcinogens. It is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney, and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers.

Both animal and human studies have shown that what seem like tiny amounts of arsenic--exposures in the parts per billion range--can result in cancer years later

As Dr Landrigan explained to us, arsenic’s additional effects on the developing brain are of great concern. “Arsenic… is more toxic to a young child than to an adult because children's rapidly developing brains and other organ systems are much more susceptible to injury than the mature organs of an adult. Both pregnant women and young children should avoid toxic chemicals like arsenic because virtually all toxic chemicals that get into the body of a pregnant woman will pass through to her baby and can cause injury to the baby in her womb.

In an ironic twist, arsenic is strictly regulated in drinking water, but is legal in any amount in infant rice cereal

What parents can do:

Parents who include infant rice cereal in their baby’s diet can immediately lower their child’s arsenic exposures simply by switching to non-rice cereals.

Some good alternatives are: barley, buckwheat, oatmeal, multi-grain, quinoa, and wheat.

- If you have to eat rice, try cooking rice in excess water (from six to 10 parts water to one part rice), and draining the excess water. Some studies have found that this can reduce from 40 to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic content.
For the lowest levels of arsenic, buy basmati rice grown in California, India, and Pakistan. White rice has less arsenic than brown rice. Rice from Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, or simply “U.S.” has the highest levels, according to testing by Consumer Reports. 

- Eat other grains like quinoa and farro instead of rice to help cut your family’s exposures.

 It is important to make sure your family is getting a balanced diet and avoid overdoing the rice products. A gluten-free diet may increase children’s exposures to arsenic 14-fold,

Bottom line:

We, as parents need to understand that arsenic is a neurotoxin just like lead: there is no safe level. It’s not an essential nutrient like zinc and selenium, which you need, but can be toxic if you take too much.

Rice products, especially infant rice cereal, a staple for so many cultures and families for so many years, should be drastically reduced from our family’s diets.

Parents can help by not purchasing rice infant cereals. If you are interested, you can sign and support the study’s author’s petition asking Gerber to get arsenic out of its rice cereal.

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