Friday, February 17, 2012

Arsenic in Rice Poses Problem for Babies and Pregnant Women

Bad news for parents of formula-fed babies and moms-to-be: the high arsenic content of rice is causing the harmful chemical to show up in the bodies of babies and expectant mothers. The culprit isn't just that side of rice on your plate either, it's all rice-based products, including brown rice syrup - a common ingredient found in organic foods and baby formula.

Try as you might, avoiding arsenic is no easy task, but luckily it leaves the body fairly quickly. However, repeated exposure has been linked to cancer and diabetes and while adults might be able to handle the chemical load without too many problems, babies are less likely to be able. The news of arsenic found in organic baby formulas is disconcerting to say the least. Researchers from Dartmouth University tested 27 different formulas for arsenic content and found that the two which listed organic brown rice syrup as an ingredient contained the highest levels of arsenic. In fact, levels were 20 times higher than the other formulas tested. Federal standards allow 10 ppb (parts per billion) in drinking water. The milk-based formula with high levels had 8.6 ppb and the soy-based formula had levels at 21.4 ppb, the researchers did not reveal which products they tested. 

The researchers also found much higher levels of arsenic in organic cereal bars containing rice products. Of the 29 cereal bars tested, there was a range of 23 - 128 ppb per bar, which health advocates are less concerned about because it's mostly adults and older children eating cereal bars. However, there should be concern for pregnant women eating the bars. Coincidentally, another study was released this week that found pregnant women who consumed a serving of rice each day had levels of arsenic in their system that sometimes exceeded the federal safety limit for water (10 ppb).  

It might seem like it's easiest to just avoid rice altogether, but rice ingredients are in a large number of products and brown rice comes with a host of health benefits, particularly for pregnant women. The studies highlight the need for the government to set safety limits for arsenic in food, not just water. Rice grown in the southern United States is particularly high in arsenic because cotton growers used to spray arsenic-based pesticides on the crops, causing it to build up in the soil. There's no way of knowing where the rice came from that was used to create the organic brown rice syrup in your cereal bar, which might convince you to avoid the ingredient for the time being. Rice from other countries, particularly India, China, and Europe is known to have lower levels of the harmful chemical. 

Is there a lot of rice in your diet?

Photo Credit: Rasbak

High arsenic levels found in organic foods, baby formula [Today]
 Rice consumption linked to higher arsenic levels in pregnant women [EnvironmentalHealthNews]
Brown rice [WHFoods]