Read this article discussing the link between exposure to heavy metals in baby food and higher risks of autism spectrum disorder and other neurological brain disorders.
In 2019, the non-profit organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures made public the results of a study that was led to measure the concentration of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in baby food. Researchers discovered that a whopping 95% of the infant and toddler food on the market at the time contained at least one heavy metal of concern. This prompted Congress to conduct a more in-depth investigation the following year, and, as a result, seven major baby food manufacturers were asked to participate by sharing documents such as the results of internal tests on heavy metals.
The companies that agreed to partake in the investigation were Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Hain Celestial Group, Nurture, and Gerber, whereas Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell refused to cooperate with Congress. Perhaps the main reason why this investigation was crucial is because exposure to cadmium, arsenic, lead, or mercury during infancy can lead to the development of autism, as well as other neurodevelopmental disorders. What the investigators found in terms of the content of heavy metals in baby food was even more shocking, some of the most relevant findings being the following:
- Beech-Nut used ingredients with as high as 913 ppb arsenic, whereas the safe limit is 10 ppb
- Gerber used 67 batches of rice flour with over 90 ppb of arsenic
- Nurture sold finished baby food products containing 641 ppb lead when the safe limit is 5 ppb
- Beech-Nut allowed the use of ingredients with as much as 886 ppb lead
- Hain used ingredients with up to 260 ppb cadmium, whereas the safe limit is 5 ppb
- Beech-Nut used ingredients with up to 344 ppb cadmium
How Can Exposure to Heavy Metals Cause Autism
Once cadmium, arsenic, lead, or mercury enter the body, they act as neurotoxins that can damage the brain and the nervous system. Babies are more vulnerable to the negative health impact of neurotoxins because they have a higher rate of uptake of nutrients by the gastrointestinal tract, incompletely developed blood-brain barrier, and undeveloped detoxification system. Consequently, the main action by which heavy metal exposure can cause autism is neurotoxicity, and lead plays a crucial role in this context. Even in trace amounts, it can affect the nervous system, taking a heavy toll on brain development and function. The existence of great concentrations of lead in the bodies of children might cause abnormalities in the structure and metabolism of neurons.
Another process involved in the development of autism is oxidative stress, which is related to mercury. The accumulation of mercury in the blood of children generates free radicals, which lead to the production of oxidative stress. Free radicals are very damaging to our health, as they can cause plenty of diseases, while oxidative stress can damage proteins, DNA, and cells. A lot of children with autism have a chronic flaw in the natural defenses of the body against free radicals. When researchers examined the relationship between high mercury levels and oxidative stress in children with autism, they found that the mercury level in specific brain areas was linked to neurotrophin-3, a marker of oxidative stress.
How to Minimize the Amount of Heavy Metals Ingested by Your Child
Upon hearing the news concerning dangerous concentrations of cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury in baby food, parents are naturally seeking ways to minimize their children’s intake of heavy metals from food. Most might not be confident or know how to go about it. However, the following list of practical measures can ensure your baby’s diet is as low in heavy metals as possible:
- replace rice cereal with multi-grain cereal to reduce the concentration of heavy metals by 93%
- avoid feeding toddlers fish that is high in mercury, such as swordfish, orange roughly, king mackerel, ahi tuna, and tilefish, and instead give your child healthy, non-toxic fish such as pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, and catfish
- replace teething biscuits with cold cucumbers or bananas to lower the concentration of heavy metals by 91%
- keep count of the amount of rice you give your child, as rice is notorious for containing up to 12 times more arsenic than other crops, and when you feed them rice, rinse it in a lot of water multiple times and drain the water when you are finished
The Baby Food Safety Act of 2021 Might Be a Sliver of Hope for Parents
On March 26, 2021, the bill known as the Baby Food Safety Act was introduced in the hope of solving the issue of heavy metals in infant and toddler products once and for all. Unlike the FDA’s Closer to Zero plan, which foresees that the problem will be solved in 2024 or later, this bill proposes to set limits for the four heavy metals of concerns immediately, as follows:
- arsenic: 10 ppb inorganic arsenic cap on baby food
- lead: 5 ppb lead cap on baby food and 10 ppb lead cap on infant cereal
- cadmium: 5 ppb cadmium cap on baby food and 10 ppb cap on infant cereal
- mercury: 2 ppb mercury cap on all baby food
However, the Baby Food Safety Act of 2021 has not yet passed the Senate, which means that parents will have to wait for a little while until a decision is made regarding this bill. If you are a parent who is at a loss about what to feed their baby, considering the unsettling news about heavy metals, you can now request free baby food from ethical companies that test for heavy metals and other toxic agents by virtue of the Toxic Baby Food Replacement Initiative. All you need to do is fill out the form at the bottom of the page, and one of the members of the legal team will contact you shortly.
- The Role of Heavy Metal Pollution in Neurobehavioral Disorders: a Focus on Autism (PDF file from springer.com)
- Association of arsenic, cadmium and manganese exposure with neurodevelopment and behavioural disorders in children: a systematic review and meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Baby teeth link autism and heavy metals, NIH study suggests (nih.gov)
- Analysis of lead, arsenic and calcium content in the hair of children with autism spectrum disorder (bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com)
- Effects of lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury co-exposure on children’s intelligence quotient in an industrialized area of southern China – PubMed (nih.gov)
- New Congressional Report Stems From HBBF’s 2019 Baby Food Study (HBBF.org)
As the Chief Financial Officer at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C.—a law firm headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama whose main area of practice is toxic exposure—Jonathan Sharp has been a member of the legal team for over 20 years. His main responsibilities include management of firm assets, claim evaluation, financial analysis, and client relations.
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