For rice and rice-based products, the pediatric nutrition authorities have recommended that arsenic intake be kept as low as possible.
“The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been monitoring arsenic levels in food for decades. Despite” well-established science describing the health risks associated with exposure to arsenic, no standards have been set that limit the amount of arsenic in food “in the United States. In 2001, the EPA passed “a new, stricter standard for arsenic in drinking water,” and in 2013 the FDA proposed a legal limit for apple juice. “There are still no standards for arsenic in food, even though food sources are our main source of exposure.”
Unlike the US, China has standards. As of 2014, China set a maximum inorganic arsenic threshold of 150 parts per billion, which is stricter than the World Health Organization’s limit of 200 ppb. In the United States, a limit of 200 ppb would not significantly change cancer risk. If we had China’s safety limits of 150 ppb, cancer risk would be reduced by up to 23 percent and a maximum threshold of 100 ppb would reduce cancer risk by up to 47 percent – but that could seriously affect the rice industry. In other words, US rice is so contaminated with arsenic that a safety standard that really lowers cancer risk would “wipe out the US rice market.” But what is the incentive for the rice industry to change its practices without borders? Setting arsenic limit values would not only protect consumers directly, but would also encourage industry to stop growing rice fields on arsenic-contaminated land.
These cancer estimates are based on water studies contaminated with arsenic. Could the arsenic in rice have any different effects? You don’t know … until you put it to the test. We know rice is high in toxic arsenic, which urine studies have shown we absorb into our bodies. So far, however, there have been no studies showing “harmful health effects” for rice arsenic. Since arsenic causes bladder cancer, the researchers thought they would see what kind of DNA mutations the urine of rice eaters may have on human bladder cells growing in a petri dish. Indeed, they have clearly shown that daily consumption of high levels of arsenic-contaminated rice can “cause significant genetic damage” such as that associated with cancer. Yes, but rather contaminated rice was used in the study. However, in certain parts of Asia, only about 10 percent of rice could ever reach these contamination levels, although a quarter of rice in parts of Europe and more than half in the United States could have significant public health effects.
“The health risks associated with the arsenic content in rice are still little puzzling. The remaining mystery is why the FDA has not set overdue standards for the arsenic content of rice in the US. However, this may change. In 2016, the FDA suggested putting a limit on toxic arsenic – at least for rice cereal for infants, which I discuss in my video Arsenic in infant rice cereals.
As you can see in mine at 3:24 VideoInfants and children under four years of age have the highest rice intake on average, also because they eat around three times the amount of food in relation to their body size. There is therefore a particularly “urgent need for legal limit values” for toxic arsenic foods for babies.
Pediatric nutrition authorities have recommended “keeping your arsenic intake as low as possible” in rice and rice-based products, but how about as early as possible? About 90 percent of pregnant women eat rice, which may have “harmful effects” on the baby.
You can estimate how much rice the mother ate during pregnancy by analyzing the levels of arsenic in the child’s toenail sections. “In particular, a 1/4 cup increase in rice per day was associated with a 16.9% increase in toenail in infants [arsenic] Concentration, ”which indicates that arsenic in rice can be passed on to the fetus. What could this arsenic do? A quarter cup of rice worth arsenic has been linked to low birth weight, increased respiratory infections, and a 5 to 6 point decrease in IQ, among other things. “Based on the FDA’s findings, it would be advisable for pregnant women to consume a variety of foods, including various grains (such as wheat, oats, and barley),” which is a code for reducing rice. Saying to eat less of anything is bad for business, after all.
Once the baby is weaned, “what should a parent do?” Consumer Reports: “To reduce the risk of arsenic, we recommend that babies eat no more than one serving of rice cereal per day on average. And your diet should include cereals made from wheat, oatmeal or corn kernels, which contain significantly less arsenic. “That said, they rely on other grains that are much less contaminated than rice. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has pointed out, “There is no proven benefit from rice grains over other grains such as oats, barley, and multigrain grains, all of which have lower arsenic levels than rice grains.” As you can see in mine at 5:28 VideoReducing infant rice cereal consumption to just two servings per week could be even more dramatic in reducing risk.
The proposed limit for toxic arsenic in infant rice cereals would result in roughly half of the products being removed from shelves. The FDA analyzed more than 500 infant and toddler foods, and the highest levels of toxic arsenic were found in organic grains with brown rice and toddler puffs. Based on the wording in the report, these traits appear to be from the Happy Baby brand. Not so happy baby with brain damage or cancer. A single serving could expose infants to double the tolerable arsenic intake set for water by the EPA. I contacted Happy Baby and learned that they “cannot comment” on the FDA’s findings.
“Eliminating all rice and rice products from the diets of infants and young children up to 6 years of age could reduce lifelong cancer risk from inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products by 6% and 23%, respectively.” That is, there is a 6 percent less chance of developing lung or bladder cancer later in life when infants quit and 23 percent less likely if young children quit. The switch to other grain types is described as “drastic and dramatic” and leads to a “major crisis” – presumably for the rice industry – and therefore “not at all feasible”.
I was hoping that after hearing about the FDA data on arsenic toddler puffs (whether or not it was its brand data), Happy Baby would get its own testing and potential remedial action like Lundberg up to speed would have (see Which brands and sources of rice have the least amount of arsenic?). Unfortunately, I have no point in my e-mail correspondence with the company.
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Michael Greger, MD
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