Infant formula may be polluted with arsenic. This is a suggestion of a study carried out by researchers from Dartmouth College and was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on February 23.
The study discovered that babies that are well fed with breast milk had lower levels of arsenic in their urine than the ones fed with baby formulas, even in areas where the water supply has lesser contamination of arsenic.
“This study’s results highlight that breastfeeding can reduce arsenic exposure even at the relatively low levels of arsenic typically experienced in the United States,” co-lead author Kathryn Cottingham said. “This is an important public health benefit of breastfeeding.”
But studies carried out earlier have shown that even when mothers are exposed to the risk of arsenic, breast milk does not contain much of the poison. Instead, the body will thoroughly filter the poison out of the milk.
70 percent of arsenic is contained in formula
The Dartmouth researchers carried out analysis on urine of 72 six-week old babies delivered by mothers who were employed in January 2009 while pregnant. Seventy percent (70%) of the babies were well fed with breast milk, 13 percent fed on formula and 17% were fed with a combination of breast milk and formula. After the analysis, result showed that babies that were fed with formula had the highest arsenic level while breastfed babies had the lowest.
This study was done at New Hampshire, where private wells constitute 40 percent of the public’s drinking water. There are regulations to check arsenic level where public water supplies dominate; but there are no regulations to check arsenic level where private wells form the major source of drinking water and as such, the arsenic exposure in the formula-fed infants might be expected to come from private well water used to produce powdered formula.
After the participants’ water supplies were sampled and a review was made on data published about arsenic levels in area wells, the researchers came up with a conclusion that an amazing 70% of the arsenic discovered during the course of the study actually came from the powdered formula itself.
In summary, our results propose that infants fed with breast milk have lower exposure to arsenic than their other group fed with formula, even while taking water that has lower arsenic concentrations. Infants were tested at such a young age and that made breast feeding rate in the study very high.
“We predict that population-wide arsenic exposure will increase during the second part of the first year of life as the prevalence of formula-feeding increases,” co-lead author Courtney Carignan said.
How to protect your child
In the rare cases where a woman absolutely must formula feed, Cottingham suggests testing the local water supplies to make sure that it is not contaminated with arsenic. Yet this would not protect against contamination in the formula itself.
A healthier option all around, when possible, would be to get human milk from a certified milk bank.
Even after babies or young children have weaned, they remain at risk for arsenic exposure. In a June 2014 report, the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Committee on Nutrition warned that widespread arsenic contamination of rice poses a particular risk to infants and young children, who are often fed rice-based cereals and beverages. Rice ingredients, such as starch, are also commonly added to infant foods.
“That contributes to high exposure of infants and young children to inorganic arsenic which is two to three times higher than in adults,” the report notes.
The report notes that neither the United States nor the European Union currently regulates the arsenic content of foods, not even foods meant for infants.