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Infants fed rice have twice as high urinary arsenic concentrations than infants fed no rice


(NaturalNews) Rice cereal is one of the most widely consumed solid foods among infants, primarily because it has a mushy texture and is easy to digest. Nevertheless, parents may want to be careful about how much rice they feed their children. A recent study, published online by JAMA Pediatrics, found that infants who consume rice and rice products had higher urinary arsenic concentrations than infants who did not do so.

Exposure to inorganic arsenic from white and brown rice is a growing problem among infants, and can impair a child's immune system and cognitive development. Inorganic arsenic is the most toxic form of arsenic. Since rice is grown in water, it easily absorbs inorganic arsenic. When arsenic poisoning becomes acute, it can spur a host of symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, blood in the urine and even cramps. It affects organs throughout the body, including the skin, lungs, kidneys and liver.

"Arsenic is a known carcinogen that can influence risk of cardiovascular, immune and other diseases," noted lead author of the study, Margaret Karagas, an epidemiologist at Dartmouth College. "There's a growing body of evidence that even relatively low levels of exposure can have an adverse impact on young children."

Infant rice consumption

The authors of the recent study reviewed the dietary data of 759 infants that were part of a New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study conducted between 2011 and 2014. At the beginning of the research project, the team requested that parents keep a food log. The researchers phoned the parents once every four months until the infants were 12 months of age. When the infants turned one year old, the team reviewed their dietary patterns. Specifically, the researchers asked the parents how much rice and rice-based products they had fed their infants, including rice cereal, white or brown rice, rice-based snacks and cereal bars.

The team found that approximately 80 percent of infants were introduced to rice cereal during the first year of life, with approximately 64 percent starting to consume rice cereal at 4 to 6 months. At 12 months, an estimated 43 percent of infants had consumed some sort of rice product in the past week; 13 percent had consumed white rice and 10 percent brown rice, on average once or twice a week.

Furthermore, approximately 24 percent of the infants consumed an average of five to six meals made with rice or sweetened rice syrup each week. According to data the parents recorded in their food logs, exactly 71 infants had eaten some sort of rice product two days before urine samples were collected.

The results of the study revealed that among 129 urine samples collected at 12 months, arsenic concentrations were significantly higher for infants who consumed rice or rice based products, in comparison to infants who did not consume any rice. The total urinary arsenic concentrations were twice as high for infants who ate white or brown rice in comparison to infants who ate no rice. Arsenic levels were highest in infants who ate baby rice cereals, which is fed to infants often to introduce them to solids.

In April, the FDA proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, in order to curb the long-term health effects of the element. The European Food Safety Authority set a similar limit for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal.

The price of rice

Previous research has demonstrated that exposure to even low levels of arsenic can impair an infant's neurological development. According to a separate 2004 study, researchers found that Bangladeshi children who were exposed to arsenic through drinking water scored significantly lower on IQ tests. In addition, a meta-analysis on the matter found a link between a 50 percent spike in urinary arsenic concentrations and a 0.4-point decrease in the IQ of children between the ages of 5 and 15.

There were limitations to the recent study, however. The data was obtained through self-reports, which increases the risk of error. In addition, the study was based on a population in New England with an unregulated water system, which may have generalized the results. Finally, the study did not account for other sources of arsenic other than the water supply, such as apple juice.

"Our results indicate that consumption of rice and rice products increases infants' exposure to As [arsenic] and that regulation could reduce As exposure during this critical phase of development," the authors of the study concluded.

Parents who want to reduce their infant's exposure to arsenic may want to consider replacing rice cereal, which contains a dearth of nutrients, with soft foods like avocado, pureed vegetables and peanut butter oatmeal.

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