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Arsenic has been found in nearly three out of every four baby food products tested for a report published this month by a health advocacy group. Sixty-one brands of baby foods were tested for the study, including infant rice cereals, teething biscuits, and fruit juices.
The study was not peer-reviewed. It comes from Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a non-profit public health advocacy group. The researchers used a detection method more sensitive than the one used by the FDA.
The FDA has not set standards for arsenic in rice, according to MedicineNet author Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD. Arsenic is a naturally-occurring substance found in low amounts in nearly all foods.
According to the FDA, the amount of arsenic typically found in food is usually not enough to cause poisoning: "As a naturally occurring element, it is not possible to remove arsenic entirely from the environment or food supply."
The potential risks of arsenic poisoning have inspired several groups to advocate for FDA and EPA safety standards, Dr. Davis said.
"The groups claim some private laboratories have detected that a single adult serving of some commercially available rice can give about 1.5 times the amount of permissible arsenic in one liter of water (under 10 parts per billion)," he said. "So action on permissible arsenic levels should be done quickly."
The FDA currently advises the food industry to limit arsenic levels to less than 100 parts per billion (PPB). The study found that four of seven rice cereals tested higher than this recommended limit.
Chronic exposure to arsenic has been associated with a wide range of health problems, Dr. Davis said. These include vomiting, diarrhea, dark urine, heart problems, vertigo, delirium, shock, and death.
"There are only a few ways to possibly save the patient's life" after arsenic poisoning, Dr. Davis said. Treatments include hemodialysis, which must be administered quickly after arsenic exposure, as well as chelation drug therapy.
Here are four key facts from Dr. Davis regarding chronic arsenic poisoning.
- Arsenic poisoning raises cancer risks.
- Arsenic comes in different forms.
- Arsenic exposure is associated with common, chronic health problems.
- Arsenic poisoning can be difficult to diagnose.
Arsenic is classified as a carcinogen by the FDA. Some studies have linked the drinking of arsenic-tainted water with higher rates of bladder, kidney, lung, and skin cancers.
The severity of arsenic poisoning depends on many factors, including how much arsenic you are exposed to and what form it takes.
Arsenic can be found in organic, inorganic, and gaseous forms. Inorganic arsenic is more hazardous to your health than the organic form. Organic arsenic compounds are not as toxic as inorganic compounds and are not believed to be linked to cancer.
Chronic inorganic arsenic poisoning has been associated with a number of chronic medical conditions, such as sensory and motor nerve defects, skin changes like swelling, bumps, and redness, and liver and kidney problems.
Arsenic poisoning may develop gradually and can be subtle.
Here are some signs and symptoms of arsenic poisoning that a physician might watch for:
- Breath and urine smell like garlic.
- Urine may be dark, a condition known as "blackwater."
- A low blood count may be caused by arsenic blood cell destruction.
- Calcium and magnesium in blood may be affected.