How Exposure to Heavy Metals from Toxic Baby Food Can Affect Neurodevelopment

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baby food and neurodevelopment

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Occurring naturally in the environment, heavy metals can be either beneficial or detrimental to the proper functioning of our bodies. While heavy metals such as magnesium, iron, and zinc contribute to our well-being in small amounts, the presence of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in our blood, even in trace amounts, can wreak havoc on the brain. This is because these heavy metals are neurotoxins

Infants and toddlers are extremely vulnerable when it comes to exposure to heavy metals, as they have a higher uptake of nutrients by the gastrointestinal tract and underdeveloped detoxification systems.

Since arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury directly target the brain and nervous system, exposure to these heavy metals can eventually result in autism spectrum disorders such as Kanner’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, or pervasive developmental disorder.

A congressional report made public in the winter of 2021 revealed that four major baby food manufacturers had allowed products with a tremendous concentration of heavy metals to go on the market. To understand how serious the problem is, let the following eye-opening findings sink in:

  • Beech-Nut, one of the oldest baby food companies in the country, used ingredients containing over 900 ppb arsenic when the maximum limit is 10 ppb
  • Hain Celestial Group, a company that sells baby food under the brand name Earth’s Best Organic, sold products with up to 260 ppb cadmium when the safe limit is 5 ppb
  • Beech-Nut, whose products can be found in stores under the same name, used ingredients containing over 886 ppb lead when the maximum limit is 5 ppb
  • Nurture, which sells baby food under the brand name HappyBABY, allowed products with 10 ppb mercury to go on the shelves when the safe limit is 2 ppb

Even though the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, which led the investigation, had initially asked seven baby food manufacturers to partake in it, Campbell, Sprout Organic Foods, and Walmart refused.

The investigators were concerned about their lack of cooperation, as it could indicate that these baby food companies had manufactured products that contained even higher concentrations of heavy metals than those of their competitors. 

The Effects of Ingesting Toxic Baby Food on Children’s Neurodevelopment

effects of baby food on children neurodevelopment

Most baby food on the market contains heavy metals because manufacturers fail to source their raw ingredients from organic farmers, even when they claim to do so.

Crops such as rice, carrots, sweet potatoes, wheat, barley, and quinoa absorb heavy metals from the soil they grow in and from the harmful pesticides that are regularly applied to them. 

Organic agriculture entails practices that reduce the amount of heavy metals crops take in, such as alternating irrigation, growing rice in soil with a low arsenic content, and using food strains that are less prone to absorbing these neurotoxins. Unfortunately, organic farming is currently a fringe movement, as only 1% of the entire farmland in the United States is used for organic agriculture.

Because arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are neurotoxins, they accumulate in the cerebral matter of children who are fed mostly toxic baby food. These heavy metals can easily cross the blood-brain barrier. The higher the blood concentration of heavy metals a child has, the greater their chances of developing a form of autism become. At the moment, 1 in 44 children born in or after 2010 in the country is on the spectrum.

Lead is perhaps the most dangerous heavy metal to the neurodevelopment of infants and toddlers, and disturbingly, over 500,000 children between 1 and 5 in the United States have a blood lead concentration above the safe limit. Even in trace amounts, lead can impact brain development and function. High concentrations of lead in the body may cause infrastructural and metabolic abnormalities in the nervous system.

Once heavy metals settle in the brain tissue, they create free radicals – unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing serious health problems and premature aging. In turn, free radicals generate oxidative stress, which refers to the disruption in the natural balance between the production of free radicals and antioxidant defenses.

Oxidative stress can take a heavy toll on proteins, DNA, and cells. Studies found that children on the spectrum share a chronic flaw in the body’s natural defenses against free radicals.

Finally, it is important to explain how mercury affects the neurodevelopment of infants and toddlers. If a high mercury level exists in the cerebellar areas of the brain, neurotrophin-3, a marker of oxidative stress, will be found in the child’s body. Overall, children with autism spectrum disorders were found to have significantly higher concentrations of heavy metals in their blood and hair than their neurotypical counterparts.

5 Practical Ways You Can Avoid Feeding Your Baby Toxic Food

Practical Ways to Avoid Feeding Your Baby Toxic Food

Luckily, if you are a new parent, there are many things you can do to minimize the amount of heavy metals your baby ingests. The following are five easy ways to avoid feeding your infant or toddler food with dangerous levels of heavy metals.

1. Breastfeed Your Newborn for as Long as Possible

While up to 80% of American mothers breastfeed their babies, fewer than one-third continue to do so for the recommended period of one year. So, if possible, breastfeed your child for as long as you can, as not only will this delay their need for commercial baby food, but it will also benefit their health.

Children who have been breastfed for at least one year have a lower risk of asthma, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity, lung infections, stomach bugs, and ear infections.

2. Replace Store Baby Food with Raw, Natural Foods

Worried about heavy metals in your baby’s diet? You’re not alone. A 2019 study by Healthy Babies Bright Futures found 95% of baby food contained at least one. But fear not, new parents! The researchers also offered clever home remedies for teething babies to help parents slash heavy metals in their children’s diet as much as feasibly possible. They include:

  • replacing teething biscuits with a cold banana to reduce the heavy metal content by 91%
  • replacing fruit juice with tap water to lower the heavy metal content by 68%
  • replacing rice puff snacks with rice-free snacks to reduce the heavy metal content by 93%
  • replacing sweet potatoes with other fresh produce to lower the heavy metal content by 73%

Remember, variety is key! Mix things up with fruits, veggies, and whole grains for a healthy, metal-free future for your little one.

3. Give Your Child Rice Just Occasionally

Rice is a major source of arsenic, as rice crops often absorb up to 20 times more of this heavy metal than other crops. Therefore, it is preferable to feed your baby rice sparingly, and when you do it, you should rinse the grains in water multiple times and cook the rice in plenty of water. The water should be drained off when the meal is ready.

4. Choose the Fish You Feed Your Toddler Carefully

While rice is notorious for containing a lot of arsenic, certain fish are known to contain high concentrations of mercury.

For this reason, you should carefully do your research before deciding which type of fish you will give your toddler. Some of the fish you should avoid are swordfish, marlin, northern pike, fresh tuna, king mackerel, and tilefish, whereas the relatively clean, nutritious fish include salmon, flounder, mullet, plaice, catfish, haddock, and pollock.

5. Make Your Own Baby Food

In this day and age, you can find millions of baby food recipes at the click of a button. Some of the meals you can prepare for your child do not even require cooking.

The most common and healthy options for infants are fruit and vegetable purées, such as banana, pea, avocado, sweet potato, and carrot purées. As for toddlers, when it comes to recipes, the sky is the limit – blueberry avocado mini muffins, banana pancakes, salmon curry, and the list goes on and on.

If you are still unsure about what to feed your baby, we have great news for you! You can now request free products for your child 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 you will be contacted by someone shortly.

  • Jonathan Sharp

    Jonathan Sharp is Chief Financial Officer at Environmental Litigation Group P.C. The law firm, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, specializes in toxic exposure. Its attorneys and legal team provide assistance to parents whose children developed a form of autism due to having been fed toxic baby food, among many other diverse clients.

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