- Infants who frequently consumed rice and rice-based foods displayed significantly higher levels of inorganic arsenic in their urine.
- The study emphasized the need for further research to determine the possible health impacts of these elevated arsenic levels.
- The study coincides with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to implement limits on arsenic levels in baby rice cereals, as the carcinogenic substance could potentially contribute to health complications.
- Over half of the U.S. rice cereals checked in 2014 failed to meet the FDA’s proposed limit for inorganic arsenic content.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics and the FDA suggest feeding infants a diverse diet including different grains, and limiting their rice consumption.
Commonly parents provide rice as an initial meal for their infants. However, newer evidence suggests that babies who consume foods with a rice-base might exhibit notably higher levels of ‘inorganic’ arsenic in their urine, when compared to those infants who don’t consume rice.
The report found the highest arsenic concentrations in those infants who frequently ate rice-based baby cereals. The levels were over triple of the babies who refrained from rice consumption.
How Consuming Rice Influences Arsenic Levels
Babies who enjoyed foods mixed with rice or rice snacks exhibited arsenic levels close to double that of babies who didn’t consume rice, according to the published report.
“The level of arsenic in their urine was directly proportional to the servings of rice or rice-inclusive food,” stated the head researcher Margaret Karagas, the epidemiology chair at Dartmouth University’s Geisel School of Medicine.
The possible health implications these arsenic exposure levels could have on children is yet uncertain, as noted by Karagas and other health experts.
Need for More Research
“This certainly sounds concerning,” stated Dr. Ruth Milanaik, the director of the neonatal neurodevelopmental follow-up program. “We definitely need more studies.”
Additionally, Dr. Milanaik noted that the results could be influenced by other foods consumed by the infants. An instance is apple juice or drinking water containing arsenic being mixed with the infants’ rice cereal. “There are countless variables,” she added.
Proposed Limits and Regulatory Actions
This study is timely, coming a few weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed to limit the levels of inorganic arsenic in baby rice cereals.
Research from the FDA found that over half of the sampled infant rice cereals from U.S. retail stores in 2014 failed to fulfill the agency’s proposed limit of 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic. In contrast, samples of non-rice baby foods were well below the FDA’s arsenic limit.
According to the FDA, Arsenic is a recognized carcinogen and can also contribute to heart disease. Some evidence also suggests that arsenic exposure early in life can impact a child’s immune system and intellectual development.
Looking at the Infants’ Rice Consumption
Karagas and her team decided to undertake the study of infants’ consumption of rice upon realizing that rice grains can absorb arsenic from the environment.
The team obtained dietary information and urine samples from 759 infants in the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study between 2011 and 2014. The infants’ growth was tracked with telephonic interviews every four months until they turned 1. At that stage, a final interview reviewed dietary patterns during the past week, assessing whether the baby had consumed rice cereal, white or brown rice, or foods either made with rice or sweetened with brown rice syrup.
Notable Findings from the Study
The study found that parents fed rice cereal to four out of five infants during their first year. More than three out of five had rice cereal between 4 to 6 months old. At the age of one, 43 percent of infants had consumed some type of rice product within the previous week. One quarter enjoyed food either made with rice or sweetened rice syrup.
Of the infants who provided urine samples, 55 percent had consumed some type of rice product in the two days prior to the study.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that infants should have a diverse diet, encompassing a wide variety of grains.
The study’s authors and the FDA recommend limiting rice consumption during early life. Alternative options suggested for concerned parents include feeding their babies oatmeal or barley, which, like rice, are iron-fortified.
The FDA also suggests cooking rice in excess water, and subsequently draining it which can reduce 40 to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic it contains.
For more on arsenic in rice cereal, please visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.