Although the unacceptably excessive presence of aluminium in infant formulas has been scientifically documented and proven since the late 1990s and the manufacturing companies are sufficiently warned and very well aware of the health problems it causes, it looks like commercial infant formulas still contain too much of this neurotoxic element.
Milk substitutes are sophisticated products that aim to nutritionally support newborns and infants of several years of age. Dr Weintraub and his team were some of the first scientists that investigated the presence of toxic amounts of aluminium in commercial infant formulas in 1986. They found that popular formulas had up to 150 times more aluminium than fresh breast milk, tap water or pasteurized cow’s milk. The problem with aluminium is that it accumulates in the bones and neural tissues. Although there are no clinical studies investigating the impact of aluminium overload in healthy infants, preliminary research shows that aluminium causes significant oxidative stress in the brain of newborn rats, while it compromises the cellular antioxidant defenses.
In the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (1996), we find the description of several cases of young children suffering from aluminium intoxication, which was closely associated to subsequent encephalopathies, leading to progressive degeneration of brain functions and bone abnormalities, mainly osteomalacia, which results in soft and flexible bones. Overexposure to aluminium combined with poor kidney function are the most important factors that determine to which extent toxic amounts of aluminium will accumulate in the body tissues. FDA has determined that newborn babies can tolerate up to five micrograms of aluminium for every kilogram of their weight on a daily basis. Even if we accept this limit as legitimate, an interesting study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition found that on average, preterm babies receive three times more aluminium than this arbitrary safe limit allows.
There is still too much aluminium
Revisiting this important child health topic, Professor Chris Exley, from the University of Keele, UK, tested several brands of ready-made milks and powder formulas for aluminium content in 2010. Surprisingly, the samples studied, especially the ready-made preparations, were heavily loaded with aluminium, containing several times higher amounts than the ones allowed in the drinking water. The study reveals that the maximum concentration measured was 700 micrograms per liter, which was found in a milk product (Cow and Gate Nutriprem 1) destined for preterm newborns. Overall, all the commercial brands tested had alarmingly high concentrations of aluminium (200-700 micrograms/lt) resulting in the ingestion of up to 600 micrograms of aluminium on a daily basis. Professor Exley reports that infant formulas contain 40 times more aluminium than breast milk; these amounts constitute these products inappropriate for human consumption, let alone for nutritionally supporting newborns. Although the sources for this consistent contamination are hard to find, there is a considerable amount of responsibility for the manufacturing companies. Based on these facts, parents should be well aware of the potential dangers of giving commercial infant formulas to their babies or younger children.
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About the author:
Helen Davies holds a Master in Human Molecular Genetics by Imperial College London and is currently training to become a registered dietitian. She has been a freelance writer for Natural Health and Nutrition for the last 3 years.