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 The research finding of so many baby foods with elevated arsenic levels (above the legal limit) in the European Union made me wonder about arsenic standards in baby cereals in the US. It turns out that the US has "parallel" standards to the European Union. The EU has "maximum 0.1 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of rice" (this standard has been in place since January 2016), and in  2016 the US the FDA proposed a "maximum allowed standard of 100 ppb (parts per billion)" in infant rice cereal.

Why is there so much arsenic in baby cereal? It's in the rice - rice plants absorb arsenic from the soil (it may be naturally occurring in the soil or in the soil because of arsenic pesticides that were used for years). And why should we be concerned about arsenic in food? The health effects of regularly consuming infant rice cereal — and other rice-based products —containing traces of arsenic are currently unclear. But...the researchers stated that early-life exposure to arsenic, even at low concentrations, is of particular concern because infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the adverse health effects of arsenic. Arsenic is a carcinogen (causes cancer), and can have "neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic" effects.

A Harvard Health Publication (Harvard Medical School) publication in 2016 stated: "In high doses it is lethal, but even small amounts can damage the brain, nerves, blood vessels, or skin — and increase the risk of birth defects and cancer." The FDA found that inorganic arsenic exposure in infants and pregnant women can result in a child’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning, based on epidemiological evidence including dietary exposures.

So what should parents do? The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) encourages that babies and toddlers eat a variety of foods, and that this will decrease a child's exposure to arsenic from rice. They also encourage other options as first foods (rather than just rice cereal), such as oat, barley, and multigrain cereals - all of which have lower arsenic levels than rice cereal. From Science Daily:

New research shows illegal levels of arsenic found in baby foods

In January 2016, the EU imposed a maximum limit of inorganic arsenic on manufacturers in a bid to mitigate associated health risks. Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's have found that little has changed since this law was passed and that 50 per cent of baby rice food products still contain an illegal level of inorganic arsenic. Professor Meharg, lead author of the study and Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences at Queen's, said: "....Babies are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of arsenic that can prevent the healthy development of a baby's growth, IQ and immune system to name but a few."

Rice has, typically, ten times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and chronic exposure can cause a range of health problems including developmental problems, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system damage. As babies are rapidly growing they are at a sensitive stage of development and are known to be more susceptible to the damaging effects of arsenic, which can inhibit their development and cause long-term health problems. Babies and young children under the age of five also eat around three times more food on a body weight basis than adults, which means that, relatively, they have three times greater exposures to inorganic arsenic from the same food item.

The research findings, published in the PLOS ONE journal today, compared the level of arsenic in urine samples among infants who were breast-fed or formula-fed before and after weaning. A higher concentration of arsenic was found in formula-fed infants, particularly among those who were fed non-dairy formulas which includes rice-fortified formulas favoured for infants with dietary requirements such as wheat or dairy intolerance. The weaning process further increased infants' exposure to arsenic, with babies five times more exposed to arsenic after the weaning process, highlighting the clear link between rice-based baby products and exposure to arsenic.

In this new study, researchers at Queen's also compared baby food products containing rice before and after the law was passed and discovered that higher levels of arsenic were in fact found in the products since the new regulations were implemented. Nearly 75 per cent of the rice-based products specifically marketed for infants and young children contained more than the standard level of arsenic stipulated by the EU law.[Original study.]

A 2016 study done in New Hampshire also showed that babies eating rice cereals and other rice-based snacks had higher amounts of arsenic in their urine compared to infants who did not eat rice foods. From JAMA Pediatrics: Association of Rice and Rice-Product Consumption With Arsenic Exposure Early in Life

Image result for wheat bread wikipedia Low gluten or gluten-free diets are a necessity for those suffering from Celiac disease or who are gluten intolerant. But low gluten diets are also followed by many people who do not have these diseases simply because they think it may be healthier for them. But is it healthier? Two recent studies raise health concerns about low gluten or gluten-free dietsGluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

The first study found that people who eat a low gluten or gluten-free diet are at risk for increased exposure to arsenic and mercury (which are toxic metals that can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurological effects). This is because gluten-free products often contain rice flour, which is used as a substitute for wheat. Rice is known to bioaccumulate certain toxic metals, including arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil, or water. People who reported eating gluten-free had higher concentrations of arsenic in their urine, and mercury in their blood, than those who did not. The arsenic levels were almost twice as high for people eating a gluten-free diet, and mercury levels were 70 percent higher. Unfortunately the U.S. does not have regulations for arsenic exposure in foods (but Europe does).

The second study found that a low-gluten diet may  raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. Diets higher in gluten were associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In the study, those who ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fiber which is known to be protective against developing type 2 diabetes.

From Science Daily: Gluten-free diet may increase risk of arsenic, mercury exposure

People who eat a gluten-free diet may be at risk for increased exposure to arsenic and mercury -- toxic metals that can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurological effects, according to a report in the journal Epidemiology. Gluten-free diets have become popular in the U.S., although less than 1 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease -- an out-of-control immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. A gluten-free diet is recommended for people with celiac disease, but others often say they prefer eating gluten-free because it reduces inflammation -- a claim that has not been scientifically proven. In 2015, one-quarter of Americans reported eating gluten-free, a 67 percent increase from 2013.

They found 73 participants who reported eating a gluten-free diet among the 7,471 who completed the survey, between 2009 and 2014. Participants ranged in age from 6 to 80 years old. People who reported eating gluten-free had higher concentrations of arsenic in their urine, and mercury in their blood, than those who did not. The arsenic levels were almost twice as high for people eating a gluten-free diet, and mercury levels were 70 percent higher.

For Science Daily: Low gluten diets linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes

Eating more gluten may be associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention / Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions....In this long-term observational study, researchers found that most participants had gluten intake below 12 grams/day, and within this range, those who ate the most gluten had lower Type 2 diabetes risk during thirty years of follow-up. Study participants who ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fiber, a known protective factor for Type 2 diabetes development.

After further accounting for the potential effect of cereal fiber, individuals in the highest 20 percent of gluten consumption had a 13 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in comparison to those with the lowest daily gluten consumption (approximately fewer than 4 grams).

Very exciting new way to use probiotics! Huge potential. From Science Daily:

Probiotics protect children, pregnant women against heavy metal poisoning

Yogurt containing probiotic bacteria successfully protected children and pregnant women against heavy metal exposure in a recent study. Canadian and Tanzanian researchers created and distributed a special yogurt containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus bacteria and observed  the outcomes against a control group.

A research team from the Canadian Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotics, led by Dr. Gregor Reid, studied how microbes could protect against environmental health damage in poor parts of the world. Their lab research indicated that L. rhamnosus had a great affinity for binding toxic heavy metals. Working with this knowledge, the team hypothesized that regularly consuming this probiotic strain could prevent metals from being absorbed from the diet.

Working with the Western Heads East organization, Dr. Reid had already established a network of community kitchens in Mwanza, Tanzania to produce a probiotic yogurt for the local population. Mwanza is located on the shores of Lake Victoria, which is known to be polluted with pesticides and toxic metals including mercury. The team utilized this network to produce and distribute a new type of yogurt containing L. rhamnosus. The special yogurt was distributed to a group of pregnant women and a group of children. The researchers measured the baseline and post-yogurt levels of toxic metals.

The team found a significant protective effect of the probiotic against mercury and arsenic in the pregnant women. This is important as "reduction in these compounds in the mothers could presumably decrease negative developmental effects in their fetus and newborns," according to Dr. Reid. While the results obtained in the children studied showed benefits and lower toxin levels, the sample size and duration of treatment did not allow statistical significance.

Children's brain development being harmed by chemicals in the environment - both before birth and in childhood -  is such an important topic that here are excerpts from two articles about the same report that was just released (in Lancet Neurology).  From Time:

Children Exposed to More Brain-Harming Chemicals Than Ever Before

In recent years, the prevalence of developmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia  have soared. While greater awareness and more sophisticated diagnoses are partly responsible for the rise, researchers say the changing environment in which youngsters grow up may also be playing a role.

In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.

Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.

But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent. The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

Same report, from Science Daily: Growing number of chemicals linked with brain disorders in children

"The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes," said Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH.

The study outlines possible links between these newly recognized neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children, including:  - Manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills  - Solvents are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behavior - Certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays.

Grandjean and co-author Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai, also forecast that many more chemicals than the known dozen or so identified as neurotoxicants contribute to a "silent pandemic" of neurobehavioral deficits that is eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, and damaging societies. But controlling this pandemic is difficult because of a scarcity of data to guide prevention and the huge amount of proof needed for government regulation. "Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of developmental neurotoxicity," they write.

The authors say it's crucial to control the use of these chemicals to protect children's brain development worldwide. They propose mandatory testing of industrial chemicals and the formation of a new international clearinghouse to evaluate industrial chemicals for potential developmental neurotoxicity.