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Have you heard the news about heavy metal contamination in commercially produced baby foods in the U.S.? Stay tuned to find out how you can protect your children.
Baby food Contamination with Heavy Metals in the News
I think many Americans were shocked by the recent discovery that most infant formulas and baby foods sold in the U.S, by some of the biggest companies in the business, are contaminated above what are considered safe levels, by a variety of toxic heavy metals. Some of the contamination has its source in foods that are tainted with the metals and some of the contamination comes from the canning, processing, and storage processes. Being organic did not affect whether the metals were present. Fortunately, none of the baby formulas or baby foods had enough toxin to be harmful with a single ingestion, but repeated frequent ingestion raised that possibility. Congress is now taking an interest in this problem and the FDA is thinking of setting safe limits for metals in baby foods.
What’s the Nature of the Problem?
We have known for hundreds of years that heavy metals like mercury and lead are toxic to the brain, especially in children as their brains are taking shape. You’ve probably heard the expression, “Mad as A Hatter”- that expression came about from the observation that the mercury containing chemicals that are used in making hats, frequently led to its users becoming crazy. The ancient Greeks and Romans recognized that lead was poisonous, most famously by the observation that the lead pipes that the Romans once used to line their famous aqueducts, created a powdery residue of (now known to be lead carbonate) that fouled the water and made its citizens sick. Hence, this type of lead poisoning via pipes became known as “Plumbism”. And of course, we have all heard of adding arsenic to foods as a popular method of carrying out a murder. In my home state of NC, Velma Barfield was put to death for multiple murders she committed by poisoning her victims, some of which were her relatives, slowly with the sweet tasting arsenic that she added undetected to their tea and other drinks.
Yes, heavy metals are very toxic, especially to babies and young children. There is no denying this fact. Their toxicity affects primarily a child’s nervous system and that injury to their brains, yes, it’s permanent. After early life exposure, the child has lost IQ for the rest of their life. I know, that sounds overly dramatic but it is the truth. This is why every parent needs to be informed on this issue.
Whose Responsibility is it to Ensure that Babies are Protected?
Whose responsibility is it to protect unborn babies and young children from being injured by heavy metals in our environment? As I said before, it is clear that these toxins are in our living space from now forward but that doesn’t mean we should let babies suffer injury from them. We have to learn to live with them. In my mind, it’s everyone’s responsibility to minimize children’s exposure; parents, manufacturers of especially food, and governmental agencies missioned to do so. Think about it, when you get on a plane, you expect that the pilots, the tower, the mechanics, and the manufacturer of the plane were responsible for the craft to be safe, We don’t expect the passenger to know how to fly or repair the plane and neither should we expect parents to understand toxicology. No, we have to rely on farmers, manufacturers, and the FDA and USDA to ensure that foods our children eat are as safe as possible. And frankly, as the recent news indicates, they have all let us down. Clear standards have not been issued by the FDA. Manufacturers have played games with testing ingredients but not end products that babies actually consume. And labeling of these toxins is nonexistent. It is interesting to read the FDA’s response to these revelations. A link is provided in my show notes.
What can parents do to Minimize Their Children’s Exposure to Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury
So, what can parents do to protect their children? Fortunately, there are some simple things that can help. Here is a list of 5 simple dietary actions that parents can take to reduce harm from contaminated baby foods. You will notice from the list, getting rice and rice flour out of your child’s diet is a key action toward controlling exposure (taken from HBBF.org).
And here is a list of actions to consider that was compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Check your water. Heavy metals can get into tap water: for example, arsenic can contaminate well water, and older pipes may contain lead. You can contact your local health department to have your water tested if this is a concern.
- Breastfeed if possible. Breastfeeding, rather than formula feeding, also can help reduce exposure to metals. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about 6 months.
- Avoid fruit juice. Offer toddlers and young children sliced or pureed whole fruits rather than juice. Some fruit juices can contain concerning levels of heavy metals. Plus, juice is high in sugar and not as nutrient rich as whole fruit. Stick with breast milk or formula for babies under 6 months old, and water and milk after they reach age 1.
- Make healthy fish choices. Some types of fish can be high in a form of mercury called methylmercury, and other metals. Of most concern are large, predatory fish that eat other fish and live longer, such as shark, orange roughy, swordfish, and albacore/white tuna. Eating too much contaminated fish can harm a child’s developing nervous system. But fish is also an excellent source of protein and other nutrients children need, and many are low in mercury. Look for better options like light tuna (solid or chunk), salmon, cod, whitefish, and pollock.
- Consider homemade baby food. There are several benefits to making your own baby food fresh at home: it can be cost-effective, avoids potential contaminants from processing or packaging, and you can choose the ingredients. But keep in mind that offering a variety of foods is just as important when making your own baby food as when shopping for prepared baby foods.
- Address lead hazards in your home. There are other important ways to help reduce your baby’s exposure to heavy metals. The most common source of lead exposure, for example, is from peeling or chipping paint from older homes. Soil, some cosmetics and spices, water, and certain occupations and hobbies can also be sources of exposure. Find more information about lead here.
- Don’t smoke or vape. Secondhand and thirdhand smoke from both regular and e-cigarettes, may expose children to metals such as cadmium and lead. Vaping allows heavy metals from the vape coils to get into the air and be inhaled. Secondhand smoke also contains harmful chemicals that can increase
Where Do We Go from Here?
I hope you now have some idea of the enormity of the problem of heavy metal pollution is and why it is so important for the well-being of the next generation, that we get a handle on solving it now. What could be more precious than the brain power of our next generation? Could it be that the increase in autism and ADHD that we have been forced to accept could be caused by toxic metals that have crept into our environment and industrialized food chain in the past half century? I think that is a reasonable explanation. Loose regulations got us to this sad state of affairs and strict regulations and consumer awareness can get us out. It is time for American parents to demand action and hold their representatives to account for their lax oversight. The problem of exposure to these metals is not going away and in fact, is getting harder and harder in today’s chemical laden world. You see, things like lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium are in the air, the soil, and the water and will be for the entirety of your children’s lives. Learning how to minimize its toxic effects is something we owe the next generation. Here are a few commonsense things that we as a society, could do today, that would go a long way toward protecting babies:
-Warning Labels on Baby foods with understandable levels of heavy metals. Let the consumer truly be informed.
-Set standards for contamination based on the end product that a baby consumes rather than the starting ingredients the manufacturer processes.
-Adopt international standards of safety.
-Heavily fine companies that fail to meet standards that are set.
-Force companies to have recalls when standards are not with all the negative publicity that would generate.
-Encourage parents to make their own baby foods from ingredients they trust. It’s ironic that the AAP discouraged parents from making their own baby foods based a few reports of nitrate poisoning (mostly excessive fertilizer) in infants and now we have a situation of widespread documented harm to infants from the companies tasked with making “safe” foods for babies.
-Pay close attention when feeding your babies and children any food that has been through an industrialized process before it gets into your children’s tummies. Don’t just accept the assumption that it is safe., especially if it has any rice in it. That includes most of the puffs that are so popular with toddlers.
So that is where we are in February 2021. As if the pandemic was not enough, now we are dealing with the toxic effects of food on our most vulnerable citizens, our babies. Please take a few moments and contact your representatives and demand more action on this issue. And as far as the baby food manufacturers, I recommend you vote with your feet. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, you know, Doc Smo, reminding you that when it comes to babies and rice, before you lift that spoon, think twice. Until next time.
Many thanks to Drs. Monica Miller and Charlotte Rouchouze for their help in preparing this pedcast.