According to a new study, breastfed babies are at lower risk for arsenic exposure compared to babies raised on formula. In the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, researchers point out that the water and powder used to make baby formula could actually be sources of arsenic.
Although in large doses arsenic has been proven to lead to very serious health problems, experts are unsure what low exposure levels do. As stated by Kathryn Cottingham, one of the lead authors of the study conducted in New Hampshire, parents who depend on formula for feeding babies should not feel bad about the discovery but rather, pay close attention to water used to make it.
She added that testing water, especially used to make baby formula, is essential. Cottingham who also works at New Hampshire’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research, noted that arsenic naturally occurs in bedrock. However, it is also a known well water contaminant.
Currently, the amount of arsenic allowed in public drinking water is not regulated by any US government agency. Roughly 40% of people living in New Hampshire use water supplies from private wells. When tested, one in 10 of these wells had levels of arsenic greater than 10 micrograms per liter, which is more than allowed in public drinking water.
Prior studies have been conducted showing that even when mothers are exposed to high levels of arsenic it is not passed down through breast milk. On the other hand, low-levels of arsenic that occurs naturally are found in powdered baby formula.
As part of the study, the urine of six-week-old babies born to women in New Hampshire was analyzed. In all, 72 babies were tested with 70% having been breastfed only, 13% formula only, and 17% a combination of breast milk and powdered formula.
Cottingham confirmed that exposure levels of arsenic in the babies were low overall but the highest concentration was found in babies fed powdered formula mixed with water. In comparison, levels of arsenic were the lowest in the urine of babies who were breastfed only.
Based on samples of tap water for the babies coupled with the data researchers published, experts agree that roughly 70% of arsenic exposure specific to the study were from powdered formula. The information suggests that babies fed formula are at greater risk for arsenic exposure whereas breastfed babies are at extremely low risk.
Cottingham and her team of researcher remind parents that there are limitations with the study. For instance, in order to make sound estimates of exposure for individual babies is not possible because not enough information exists.
While researchers confirmed formula fed babies are at greater risk, there is no evidence that later in life those children will experience serious health problems. For that reason, additional studies are needed.