Hispanic mothers breastfeed at a rate significantly higher compared to non-Hispanic white and African American mothers, a statistic which may give Hispanic children an edge when it comes arsenic exposure. According to new research from Dartmouth College, formula-fed infants have higher arsenic levels than breast-fed babies.
Arsenic, a naturally-occurring element found in rocks and soil, water, air, and in plants and animals, has been linked to several types of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), as well as fetal mortality, decreased birth weight and diminished cognitive function among children.
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“Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment, as well as being present in some man-made products,” states the ACS. “We normally take in small amounts in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Most arsenic compounds have no smell or taste, so usually you cant tell if arsenic is in your air, food, or water.”
Infants on formula, however, have an increased risk of arsenic exposure because their diet often revolves around powdered formula mixed with tap water. Tap water itself naturally can contain arsenic and was the primary reason for exposure in the research, but what the experts pointed out in the study was formula itself also contributed, having arsenic in it as well.
In 2012, a study from researchers at Dartmouth College investigated arsenic in food. According to the research at that time, arsenic in baby formula was the result of using organic brown rice as a sweetener; rice is is among the few plants that are unusually efficient at taking up arsenic from the soil, noted the writeup from Consumer Reports, and much of the rice produced in the U.S. is grown on land formerly used to grow cotton, where arsenical pesticides were widely used for decades.
Any product, including baby formula, containing rice, should be viewed as a source for arsenic exposure. “In the absence of regulations for levels of arsenic in food, I would certainly advise parents who are concerned about their children’s exposure to arsenic not to feed them formula where brown rice syrup is the main ingredient, Brian Jackson, Ph.D., lead author of the 2012 research said.
His findings are taken a step further with the latest from Dartmouth, which specifically looked at breastfeeding women versus formula-feeding women. As suspected, the combination of natural arsenic in water and powdered formula increased a child’s exposure significantly.
“This study’s results highlight that breastfeeding can reduce arsenic exposure even at the relatively low levels of arsenic typically experienced in the United States,” lead author Professor Kathryn Cottingham said in a press release. “This is an important public health benefit of breastfeeding.”
Breastfeeding has also been proven beneficial for improved child cognitive function, healthier immune system development, prevention of sudden infant death syndrome, and may lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers later in life.