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Arsenic in organic brown rice syrup formula

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arl2219 Posted: Thu, Feb 16 2012 2:18 PM

High levels of arsenic found in a formula with a brown rice syrup base (like Nature's One). The specific formula isn't listed, but I thought this was important to post because I know a lot of folks choose brown rice syrup formulas because they don't contain the organic DHA, which some believe is made using questionable chemicals. Something new to think about!

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dj rayne replied on Fri, Feb 17 2012 3:41 AM
Posting this as it is a related topic and those women that eat high rice diets or use brown rice syrup (items that contain) and BF may want the info:

Is Arsenic “Lactation Intolerant”?: Study Indicates Low Excretion in Breast Milk
Tanya Tillett
Arsenic is known to readily cross the placenta, but few data exist on postnatal exposure to arsenic in breast milk. Results of a study conducted in Bangladesh now suggest that infants who are exclusively breastfed are protected against arsenic, despite high maternal exposures [EHP 116:963–969; Fängström et al.].
Numerous studies have linked arsenic exposure in adults to various diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes mellitus. Exposure in school-age children has been associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. During fetal development, the brain is particularly vulnerable to arsenic exposure, as it readily crosses the placenta, possibly altering fetal programming and leading to a higher risk of susceptibility to disease later in life.
The subjects in the current study included 98 mothers and their 3-month-old infants who participated in the Maternal and Infant Nutrition Interventions of Matlab in Bangladesh, one of the most severely affected countries in terms of high prevalence of extremely elevated levels of arsenic in drinking water supplies. The investigators evaluated nutritional status and arsenic exposure as reflected by arsenic metabolites in infant urine and maternal blood, urine, and saliva samples. They also analyzed breast milk samples at 2 months postpartum for arsenic. Questionnaires completed by the mothers provided data on infant feeding practices.
The median sum of arsenic metabolites in infant urine was 1.2 μg/L, with significantly lower concentrations in infants who were exclusively breastfed compared with those who received some solid food. Arsenic concentrations in breast milk were low (median 1.0 μg/kg) and mostly in the form of trivalent inorganic arsenic. The researchers observed a significant association between arsenic in infant urine and breast milk, but noted that some mothers with low breast milk arsenic had infants with high urine concentrations, possibly because the infants had been given water to drink. Median maternal blood and urine concentrations were high (5.7 and 67 μg/L, respectively), whereas median maternal saliva concentrations were low (1.3 μg/L). Among infants who were exclusively breastfed, urine levels did not exceed 19 μg/L inorganic arsenic and its metabolites, whereas infants who received infant formula prepared with local drinking water in addition to some breast milk had urine levels up to 1,100 μg/L.
The authors demonstrate for the first time that arsenic in human breast milk is mostly the inorganic arsenite form. Although there was a significant relationship between arsenic concentrations in milk and in maternal blood, arsenic concentrations in breast milk were relatively low despite the mothers’ high exposures. The findings suggest that breastfeeding exclusively can protect infants from arsenic exposure during this critical development period, but the authors note that researchers have yet to determine the extent to which breastfeeding decreases the health risks associated with prenatal arsenic exposure.

To be fair I'll post this as well as arsenic does cross the placental barrier and the above shouldn't be surprising. Organic growing practices don't mitigate the amt of arsenic the plant absorbs from the soil. The fact that rice has high levels isn't new news as especially in the south rice is grown on fields that have been contaminated by generations of arsenic applications to rid the fields of boll weevils. It doesn't leach appreciably once applied and intake by the plant is regulated by the amt of water the plants are flooded with. If you find rice in your diet a concern then read the bag to determine where it comes from. There are also concerns related to levels in some juices - primarily apple.

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Food Safety: U.S. Rice Serves Up Arsenic

Carol Potera


At one point during the reign of King Cotton, farmers in the south central United States controlled boll weevils with arsenic-based pesticides, and residual arsenic still contaminates the soil. Today, rice paddies cover fields where cotton once grew, and a large market basket survey published in the 1 April 2007 issue of Environmental Science & Technology now shows that rice grown in this area contains, on average, 1.76 times more arsenic than rice grown in California. With rice consumption increasing steadily in the United States, high-rice diets may be of concern, says principal investigator Andrew Meharg, chair of biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom.

Arkansas produces about half and California about 20% of the total rice grown in the United States. The rest comes from Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, and Florida. The total U.S. rice crop for 2004 was 6.4 million metric tons, or 1.6% of total world production, according to the USDA.

USDA data further show that U.S. rice tends to be milled and packaged close to where it is grown. About 60% of the rice grown in the United States is eaten here, and this figure has been increasing by about 2–3% a year. Rice is eaten directly or processed into breakfast cereal, rice cakes, package mixes, pet food, and beer. U.S. rice also is exported to South America, Asia, and Europe. Meharg’s team purchased 134 varieties of rice, including brown, white, organic, polished, unpolished, and instant, at grocery stores across Arkansas and California.

Meharg traced where the rice varieties originated from information on the packages and by performing a principal component analysis of selenium, cobalt, copper, and other minerals in the grain. “This elemental profile directly relates rice to soil on which it is grown,” says Meharg.

Total arsenic levels in the 107 south central rice samples averaged 0.30 μg/g, compared to an average of 0.17 μg/g in the 27 California samples. A white rice sample from Louisiana ranked highest in total arsenic (0.66 μg/g), and an organic brown rice from California ranked lowest (0.10 μg/g). Organic growing conditions, however, do not guarantee low arsenic levels, since any rice growing in arsenic-laden soil soaks up arsenic, says Meharg.

U.S. rice consumption averages about 12 grams daily, but Asian Americans average more than 115 grams daily; Hispanic and black consumers also have higher-than-average rice intakes. The U.S. EPA, which classifies inorganic arsenic as a group A human carcinogen, sets a daily limit at 10 μg/L from drinking water (the most frequent route of exposure). There is no U.S. standard for arsenic in food. However, Meharg calculated that people who eat more than 115 grams of high-arsenic rice could reach or surpass the drinking water standard.

“High-arsenic” in this instance is based on the Louisiana sample that scored highest in arsenic content, assuming that the arsenic content was 42% inorganic, as measured by Meharg in a study published in the 1 August 2005 issue of Environmental Science & Technology. Rice grown in Bangladesh, the world’s hot spot for arsenic poisoning, contains about 80% inorganic arsenic, and people there eat 450 grams daily.

Rice is recommended as a substitute for wheat for people with celiac disease, a condition in which the wheat protein gluten damages the intestinal lining and impairs absorption. Celiac disease afflicts 1 in 133 Americans. Gluten-free diets also are promoted for children with autistic spectrum disorders, although no clear scientific evidence supports the use of such a diet. Estimates published in the November 2001 issue of Pediatrics put the prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders at 6.7 children per 1,000, with 15% of these children on gluten-free diets.

The arsenic levels in U.S. rice “are possibly cause for concern,” says John Duxbury, a soil chemist at Cornell University. He completed a market basket analysis of rice purchased in upstate New York that, like Meharg’s, found high levels of arsenic in rice grown in the south central United States. But Duxbury points out that the findings are perhaps less straightforward than they may seem. In contrast to Meharg’s calculations, the U.S. rice sample with the highest arsenic in Duxbury’s unpublished analysis contained only 22% inorganic arsenic. Moreover, Duxbury’s greenhouse experiments show that farmers could significantly reduce rice arsenic levels by applying less water to the plants. Other researchers are designing rice plants that absorb less arsenic.

“Until this all gets sorted out, consumers shouldn’t be overly concerned,” Duxbury says. Nevertheless, rice fanciers might note that both Duxbury and Meharg found basmati rice imported from India and Pakistan and jasmine rice from Thailand to contain the least arsenic.


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arl2219 replied on Fri, Feb 17 2012 6:44 AM

dj - This is great information. Thank you. I'm beginning to be concerned about the "puffs" that my son eats. He loves HappyBaby Organic Puffs and they are primarily organic brown rice flour and organic apple juice. I assume brown rice flour would have the same issues as the syrup. I couldn't find any info on the website. Sigh. So much to think about!

Baby Boy June 2011, c/s (breech); Baby Boy July 2014, successful VBAC

Broken Heart July 2013, Broken Heart September 2013


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dks1 replied on Mon, Feb 27 2012 3:27 PM

I have been following the development of this story quite closely as this is the brand of formula I've been supplementing with for a few months now.  It's all terrifying, yet I have not stopped using it.  I have read so much conflicting information - and am so unhappy about the idea of switching to a different formula with other ingredients that make my stomach turn.  But I do not know who to trust - the company (of course) insists that it is safe to continue using and that their independent, 3rd party laboratory tests came back showing much lower levels than the study published (yet they will not release any quantitative data).  However there is a well known toxicologist who just wrote an article and seems to think parents should avoid it at all costs and that the other chemicals in most other formulas are "better" than the levels of arsenic supposedly detected.  It seems like a no brainer to some, I'm sure, but I, for one, am completely conflicted about what to do.  My daughter takes her formula readily - and it smells and tastes wonderful, like vanilla.  I was so happy with it and felt good knowing it was all organic and had minimal "stuff" in it - and now this?!  What would you all do?

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kcl replied on Mon, Feb 27 2012 7:32 PM
sorry, I'm having real trouble with my browser... can't turn off the italics...

arl- I doubt that the brown rice flour is a concern.  Syrups are concentrations of portions of the grain.  Therefore, the arsenic inside the rice gets concentrated in the syrup.  Flour is made from finely grinding the whole rice grain.  So, there is likely still arsenic in the flour, but the concentration is most likely well below the scary levels found in the syrup.  And, the puffs are essentially nothing- they are mostly air, and the amount LOs eat is not nearly as significant a percentage of the daily calories that formula is.  I just bought my first can of HappyBaby puffs- I'm hoping they help DS make the bridge from purees to chunkier foods.

dks1- it's a tough call.  Have you looked at other organic formulas like Earth's Best or Vermont Organics?  I'm a science teacher.  To publish an article, data must be released and freely available.  If the Only Baby company is not disclosing their data, that sends up red flags for me.  I'd switch, even though it sounds like you're only using it as a supplement.  Is there a milk bank near you?  You could look in to donated milk.  Or, have you looked in to boosting your own milk supply with medication (domperidone)?  That might give you more peace of mind than switching formula... just a thought...

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dks1 replied on Mon, Feb 27 2012 9:46 PM

Thanks, kcl...  I have tried other, herbal remedies for my milk supply but it's only mildly helped.  I thought about trying domperidone but some of the contraindications and s/e made us decide it would not be the best thing for me to do.  And yes, I even contacted a milk bank but my daughter was denied due to her age and that fact that she was full term and healthy.  Apparently supplies are very limited and they reserve that milk for only the neediest babies.  

I'm glad you made the comment about posting the data.  The company just said they had their product tested and they were not trying to or intending to publish any articles about it.  The study that was published did in fact have data and it came from some researchers at Dartmouth... 

I can't begin to tell you how many hours I've sat here, poring over websites and information trying to make an informed decision.  The reason so many people love this formula is because of how truly natural it is and the positive effects it seems to have on our babies.  At least, no adverse reactions like some experience with other formulas.  Of course the saying "too good to be true" seems to apply here.  It's sickening.  How I wish I could provide my daughter with all the breast milk she needs! :(

I'm afraid that for the next two and a half months, I either need to switch formulas or continue using this one with the hopes and prayers that this is all just exacerbated media hype, etc.  It's a tough call.  Thank you for your feedback!!

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dj rayne replied on Tue, Feb 28 2012 6:11 AM

This isn't an endorsement or attempt to minimize any parents concern but consider that brown rice syrup in this instance isn't being eaten straight out of the jar. It is an added ingredient and the levels in the product will reflect that as the concentration is spread over the entire product. Look at how far down the list the BRS occurs if it isn't in the top three then it isn't a main ingredient and in many products with concerns about added sugar the amt can be less than 2%. Do the studies reflect levels in the actual product or in the brand of rice syrup used to sweeten it? With the formulas BRS is often found in the top three while with other food products it is further down the list.

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