Monday, April 6, 2009

Baby food or fuel?

April 5th 2009 - Daddy's HandsImage by Stephen Poff via Flickr

Breast feeding children is the best way to a child’s health. But danger lurks even there. All parents of breast fed infants as well as those who formula feed their children are sitting up stunned in the USA.

Now U.S. officials have found yet another potentially dangerous ingredient in infant formula. This comes just a few months after the chemical melamine was found in infant formula in the U.S. making thousands of infants ill, and for causing four infant deaths, in China.

A study by Centers for Disease Control scientists has found a hazardous chemical, perchlorate at potentially dangerous levels in samples of 15 different brands of powdered baby milk formula.

Perchlorate, is a component of solid rocket fuel, flares, fireworks and some fertilizers. Perchlorate contamination, usually associated with defense and aerospace sites, has been known to affect thyroid function.

Perchlorate a potent thyroid toxin reduces thyroid hormone production and inhibits the uptake of iodide, which is required for healthy function of the thyroid gland which controls human metabolism, growth and development .Too little thyroid hormone, called hypothryroidism, leads to weight gain, low heart rate, water retention, poor muscle tone, and fatigue. It may interfere with foetal and infant brain development
However, the extent of the risk is hard to assess.

The chemical has been detected in drinking water in 28 states and territories and at low levels in food supplies. It has been found leaching into public water wells from military bases and bomb-building facilities..
Infants fed cow's milk-based powdered formula could be exposed to perchlorate from two sources -- tap water and formula.

When perchlorate-contaminated powdered formula is mixed with water that also contains traces of the chemical, the final concoction can become particularly harmful to babies. , infants may be more exposed than adults because of their body weight and from the potential double exposure from combining powdered formula mix and tap water to make a bottle of formula, the study said.

Iodine supplements at higher levels may offer some protection from the effects of perchlorate, but the scientists warn that even adequate iodine intake among formula-fed infants is not guaranteed to prevent "perchlorate-induced thyroid dysfunction.

“Millions of American babies are potentially at risk."

Perchlorate exposure is a serious issue and "a top priority. How best to protect children from perchlorate is a million dollar question. Setting a safe drinking water standard for perchlorate in water supply is not the ultimate solution. Will it help if the perchlorate level is so low that the amount of daily oral exposure is beneath a threshold called a reference dose which is the amount of perchlorate humans could consistently consume over the course of a lifetime without increasing their risk of harm.

Just as pressure to regulate perchlorate has mounted, so has lobbying from the chemical manufacturing and defense industries to stymie efforts to regulate the chemical.

Clarification on both the complex interrelationships among the thyroid, perchlorate, and iodide, as well as any potential public health risk with exceeding the perchlorate reference dose is an immediate necessity.

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