If you have a baby and are either feeding brown rice cereal or a formula containing brown rice syrup, it’s time to sit up and take notice.
We recently received the below from a concerned mother who chose to feed her baby an organic formula sweetened with brown rice syrup as a better alternative to other sweeteners such as corn syrup.
Here is what JM wrote in with:
“AIGH!!! I specifically chose Baby’s Only organic formula BECAUSE is was organic and used brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup – and, your own book makes a strong case for choosing it!
Do you as a nutritionist have any idea about the impact of arsenic on developing infants?
I had no choice about formula supplementation, but have continued to breastfeed as much as possible – now, I’m terrified I’ve poisoned my baby! AIGH!!
Please, any information you can supply will be helpful!
Terrified Mom, JM”
We’ve had similar emails from very concerned parents. And for good reason. Everyone knows arsenic is toxic, it’s what’s in rat poisoning for goodness sake. What business does a poison have being found in an infant formula?
This was our response:
“… I’ve been doing some investigating and I do think it’s worth taking a breath and checking out some of the facts. Nature’s One is obviously incredibly upset about this study as well so following their developments on their Facebook page here is one place to get more information. There are also some quotes from Dr. Jackson clarifying about what was said in the press.
A Canadian doctor has also commented on this American study. Unfortunately he never answered the question about whether it’s organic or inorganic arsenic in the brown rice syrup which would have been good information to have.
Any toxic substance has a more toxic effect on infants as their liver is still developing and not able to detoxify with the same efficiency as an adult.
On Nature’s One’s page (link above), there is a list of foods that can help chelate (take out) arsenic from the body. I’d suggest that you offer those foods when appropriate. Whether you decide to choose another formula is a decision to make after doing some reading and following along with what’s being written. Remember that most headlines are to grab your attention and the whole picture isn’t always painted.
Please keep in touch,
Chemically speaking, there are two types of arsenic. Organic arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our environment that’s widely distributed within the Earth’s crust. Hence, it makes it’s way into food via the soil and ground water. Then there’s inorganic arsenic – the bad stuff – that’s a man-made byproduct of industrial waste. It also gets into soil and water. Foods that take a lot of water to grow, like rice, tend to suck up a lot of both organic and inorganic arsenic. Brown rice tends to be higher in arsenic – as well as other (healthy) minerals and antioxidants – because the outer hull is intact. Making a thick syrup out of brown rice concentrates the minerals even more.
If you’re going to test a food for arsenic, like Dr. Jackson and his team did in their brow-raising Dartmouth study, you need to distinguish between organic and inorganic arsenic because only one is harmful.
In a nutshell, this study took 17 baby formulas, 29 cereal bars and three energy shots purchased in New Hampshire. An ‘organic’ toddler milk formula containing organic brown rice syrup as a main ingredient had Total Arsenic concentrations (organic + inorganic) close to six times the EPA safe drinking water limit. Cereal bars and high energy foods containing organic brown rice syrup also had higher levels of the toxin when compared to products that did not contain the alternative sweetener.
At high doses, and chronic exposure, arsenic can damage the liver, skin, kidney and cardiovascular system. Babies are particularly vulnerable because of their size and limited variety in their diets. The smaller the child, the greater the concentration of any harmful substance. Jackson’s study results were based on the average weight for a 12-month-old baby (9 kg).
The study authors have published a consumer FAQ sheet to educate concerned parents about arsenic toxicity. Here’s the main point:
“Arsenic does not accumulate in the body so when your child is no longer exposed to arsenic it will leave his/her system in a day or two.
Long-term health consequences are unknown because previous studies have not examined childhood exposure at doses equivalent to levels found in these formulas.”
Another important point – Arsenic levels vary based on where the food was grown and each country has it’s one regulations about soil testing and acceptable levels of trace toxins in food. Jackson’s study involved only brands sold in the US, and the US CDC statement on arsenic can be found here.
I’m a bit skeptical about why brown rice in general hasn’t been targeted and just formula and cereal bars. As the most common recommendation for starting solids is rice, and some parents choose brown rice, I wonder why cereal hasn’t been mentioned more here, with suggestions of what parents should do as an alternative or how much to worry if their baby has eaten brown rice cereal daily.
Since the correspondence above there has been more articles, blog posts and information come to light about rice and arsenic. We will keep you updated with further information that we find and support you to make an informed decision for your baby.
Here is another link about safe levels of arsenic
You can also check out the Dartmouth College site to find out more about this one particular study –