Rice cereal is often one of the first solid foods parents introduce to their babies. Unfortunately, several studies have found traces of arsenic in rice-based food products.
Now, a new study has found that babies fed with rice cereals and other rice-based food products are likely to have higher concentrations of inorganic arsenic in their urine compared with babies who are not.
For the study, which involved 759 infants, epidemiologist Margaret Karagas and colleagues from Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine, looked at the association between consumption of rice-containing products among infants in their first year of life and the arsenic concentrations in their urine.
The researchers found that at 12 months, the concentrations of inorganic arsenic among infants who ate rice or foods mixed with rice were higher compared with those who were not.
Urinary arsenic concentrations were likewise found to be twice as high among infants who consumed white or brown rice compared with the babies who were not given rice. The highest concentration of inorganic arsenic was among infants given rice cereals.
Compared with organic arsenic, or arsenic combined with carbon and other elements, inorganic arsenic, or arsenic with no carbon present, is more toxic. The compound is, in fact, included in the World Health Organization's carcinogen list.
Studies suggest that inorganic arsenic may have neurotoxic effects and can be very harmful to the immune system. High exposure to this chemical particularly among developing infants can be dangerous.
Research has likewise shown that infant rice cereal may have levels of inorganic arsenic twice the amount allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and recommended by WHO. The researchers noted the importance of regulating arsenic in infant rice cereals.
"Our results indicate that consumption of rice and rice products increases infants' exposure to As and that regulation could reduce As exposure during this critical phase of development," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the JAMA Pediatrics on April 25.
Early in April, the FDA proposed a limit for inorganic arsenic found in infant rice cereal in a bid to reduce infants' exposure to the substance.
"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to reduce inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, a leading source of arsenic exposure in infants," The FDA said. "[N]ational intake data show that people consume the most rice (relative to their weight) at approximately 8 months of age.