Study raises concerns about trace elements in baby foods

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Infant

Swedish scientists have expressed concern about the quantity of certain elements, especially arsenic, in popular infant formulas and foods.

Writing in the Journal of Food Chemistry, researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden investigated the concentration of trace elements in nine infant formulas and nine infant foods produced by big names such as Mead Johnson and Nestle.

The survey revealed wide variations between different products intended for babies of less the 4 months old.

Arsenic in rice-based foods

Rice-based products were highlighted as being of particular concern because of the levels of arsenic found in them.

While no legal limits were broken, the authors said just two portions a day of rice-based infant food would come very close to the former tolerable daily intake of 2.1 μg/kg bodyweight. And because of risk uncertainties and new evidence pointing to adverse effects at lower doses, a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) panel said this figure is no longer appropriate.

The scientists from Karolinska Institutet added that research indicates that exposure to arsenic in drinking water at an early age is associated with higher infant mortality and impaired development. They therefore questioned the suitability of rice in infant foods.

“The finding of elevated intakes of arsenic from rice-based food products raises the question of the suitability of rice in infant foods.”

Other elements questioned

The scientists also expressed concern about the levels of two other toxic elements in infant formulas and foods – namely cadmium and lead. Like arsenic these find their way into baby products because they are naturally present in the soil at low levels.

In the case of cadmium, the scientists said amounts found in baby foods were much higher than in breast milk but still well below exposure limits in Europe. Still, they said little is known about early-life exposure and associated adverse effects.

Even the presence of essential elements, including iron and magnesium, was a cause of concern for the scientists. Again, these were found in much higher concentrations in baby foods than in breast milk

“The large variation of especially magnesium and iron found in investigated formulas raises the question of what we really know about the infant’s requirements of these elements, and the need for fortification at such high concentrations.”

It was noted that babies have higher absorption and less effective excretion of several elements. But the scientists concluded that more research is needed to better understand the risks posed by trace elements in baby foods.

“Evaluation of potentially adverse effects of the elevated element concentrations in infant formulas and foods are warranted.”

Source: Food Chemistry
Published online ahead of print 127 (2011) 9643-951
“High concentrations of essential and toxic elements in infant formula and infant foods – A matter of concern”
Authors: Karin Ljung, Brita Palm, Margaretha Grandér and Marie Vahter

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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