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Radioactivity in baby formula below limits, but higher than expected

Researchers suggest more specific baseline acceptable levels be adopted to limit wide, potentially dangerous variations from country to country.

By Stephen Feller
Radioactivity in baby formula below limits, but higher than expected
Levels of radioactive elements in infant formula from 14 countries was found to be below international standards, however researchers said more should be done to make the levels uniform and protect them from increasing. Photo by Gayvoronskaya_Yana/Shutterstock

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Formula-fed infants ingest a higher amount of radioactivity than has been previously reported, however researchers said the levels are lower than international standards recommend.

Human exposure to radiation is mostly due to naturally occurring elements in the environment such as uranium, thorium, and potassium. Just over 10 percent of radiation can be blamed on accidental or unplanned releases of industrial or radioactive waste, which are transferred to humans through the environment or by entering the food supply.

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As a result, researchers at the University of Malaysia sought to find the levels of radiation present in infant formulas because of the potential for them to be contaminated either by environmental or anthropogenic sources such as radioactive accidents or radionuclides.

"Although breast feeding is the best feeding choice during infancy, but due to many reasons and the possibility of certain body toxins being transferred to the infants through human milk, an increasing number of mothers are limiting the breast feeding to their infants and replacing it with industrially processed infant formula," researchers wrote in the study, published in Environmental Engineering Science. "As a result, some infant populations may be more at risk when consuming contaminated milk since industrially processed infant formula may represent a source of intake of certain contaminants, including radionuclides, leading to prolonged health effects."

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Researchers gathered 14 types of infant formula made in Malaysia and in other countries, testing two samples of each for concentrations of caesium, potassium, thorium and radium.

The study found that Lactogen, a brand from the Philippines, had the lowest levels of radiation and SMA Gold, a brand available in Singapore had the highest level of the radionuclides, with other brands landing somewhere in between.

When compared with levels reported by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, the study found doses of radionuclides to be "significantly higher" than expected for formula doses given to infants less than one year old, but lower than for infants between one and two years old.

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In general, the levels also were found to be lower than the World Health Organization's recommended acceptable levels of radionuclides in formula, the researchers reported.

"The data reported here might be useful to establish a baseline for natural and artificial radioactivity in milk and help to develop future guidelines in the country for radiological protection for the relevant population," researchers wrote.

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