Arsenic and Organic-Laced Foods

Organic brown rice syrup a source of inorganic arsenic in infant formulas and cereal bars

(RxWiki News) While organic brown rice syrup may sound like a healthier alternative to high fructose corn syrup, the "organic" sweetener could lead to more inorganic arsenic - a carcinogen - in your body.

Inorganic arsenic occurs naturally in rice, so eating too much rice can lead to consuming more arsenic than recommended by health regulatory organizations.

A new study reveals that food with rice products may have the same danger.

"Don't over-consume organic brown rice syrup."

Lead author Brian Jackson, Ph.D., the director of Trace Metal Analysis at the Core Facility at Dartmouth College, tested a range of infant formulas, cereal bars and energy shot products for levels of arsenic.

The researchers tested three bottles of organic brown rice syrup (two different brands), 17 infant formulas, 29 cereal bars and 3 energy "shots" from local stores in Hanover, NH.

They estimated a typical baby would eat six four-ounce bottles of prepared formula each day and compared the levels of arsenic in this amount to the safe levels estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization for drinking water.

WHO and EPA set the maximum safe amount of arsenic in drinking water at 10 parts per billion.

The arsenic levels in the 15 infant formulas that did not have organic brown rice syrup were low, about 2 to 12 ng/g. The two formulas made with organic brown rice syrup had 20 times as much arsenic as the other formulas. 

These formulas were Baby’s Only Organic Dairy Toddler Formula and Baby’s Only Organic Soy Toddler Formula, both made by Nature’s One.

The dairy-based formula they tested averaged 8.6 parts per billion of arsenic in one serving, and the soy formula contained 21.4 parts per billion - double the maximum recommendations for drinking water's arsenic content.

Previous studies suggest that exposure to arsenic in childhood can cause health problems in people when they are children and adults.

Jackson's team looked at the ingredients for 100 cereal bars and high energy athletic performance products and found that about half of them contained organic brown rice syrup.

They then tested 29 bars and three energy gel-blocks for arsenic levels and found they had 8 to 128 ng/g of arsenic.

The seven bars they tested that didn't list rice in the top five ingredients had the lowest levels of arsenic.

The bars that had one of four rice products among their top five ingredients - organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain or rice flakes - had from 23 to 128 ng/g of arsenic.

The energy blocks all contained about 2.5 to 2.7 parts per billion of arsenic in a 30g serving, but the product recommends two servings for each hour of exercise. Those four servings would equal the maximum safe consumption of arsenic in drinking water set by the WHO and EPA.

According to the EPA, arsenic is a carcinogen that has been associated with cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver and prostate.

It can also cause stomach pain and nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness.

Because the U.S. does not currently regulate the amount of arsenic found in food products, the researchers conclude "there is an urgent need for regulatory limits on arsenic in food."

The study was published February 16 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the authors declared no competing interests.