A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics has reported that infants who consume rice or rice-containing foods in the first year of life have higher levels of arsenic exposure, and subsequently, higher urinary arsenic concentrations
When it comes to introducing babies to solid foods, rice-based foods are usually first. Studies have shown that rice, a main ingredient in several baby and infant foods, contains arsenic and is likely to accumulate and absorb arsenic more readily than other cereal products. Researchers of a study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that infants who were introduced to rice or foods mixed with rice during their first year of life had a higher exposure to Arsenic compared to those who ate no rice. Infants at 12 months of age who consumed rice or rice products during their first year were found to have higher urinary arsenic concentrations than those who did not have any types of rice, with urinary arsenic concentrations increasing correspondingly with increasing consumption of rice and rice-based foods. The researchers observed the highest total urinary arsenic levels among infants who consumed baby rice cereal, or a food marketed as infant, baby or toddler/transitional cereal with the main ingredient as rice. Total urinary arsenic levels were found to be almost twice as high for those who ate rice snacks, a food marketed as a snack with rice as a listed ingredient, compared with infants who did not eat rice.
The research involved a study of 951 infants who were born in the New Hampshire State of the USA to mothers registered in the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study from 2011 to 2014. Registered women recruited from particular clinics were between 18 and 45 years of age, delivering a single birth, living in homes served by a private water system and in the same residence since their last menstrual period, and who were not planning to move during pregnancy. Data on infants’ dietary patterns and consumption of rice and rice products were collected from interviews with their parents at 4, 8, and 12 months’ follow-up. Dietary data was obtained from 759 of the 951 infants included in the study, of which represented an approximately equal number of females and males. Data on infants’ consumption of rice and rice products were gathered from 129 of the 759 infants from a 3-day food diary at 12 months old from March 2013 to August 2014. Data on urinary arsenic species was obtained from 48 infants.
Previous studies have reported that rice-based foods contain traces of arsenic, both in its organic and inorganic form. There is clear evidence on the toxic effects of inorganic arsenic and evidence to suggest that organic forms also may pose a risk to health. Although the potential health effects of regularly consuming rice or rice products are unclear, it is worthy to note that young children and infants are far more susceptible to the possible cancerous effects of arsenic and have an increased risk for adverse growth, adverse neurodevelopmental effects and adverse immune response, even at fairly low concentrations of exposure.
The results of this study suggest that feeding infants rice and rice-based foods on a regular basis could contribute to their arsenic exposure. This finding is important considering that most infants in the study were found to consume rice and rice products during the first year of life, a critical period of childhood development, and given the vulnerability of infants and children to the effects of arsenic exposure. The researchers highlight the need for strategies to reduce arsenic exposure to infants by suggesting that new regulations be proposed to lessen exposure.
Written by: Nigar Celep, BASc