High Levels of Heavy Metals Found in Popular Baby Foods Linked to Autism

By Jonathan Sharp, Environmental Litigation Group, P.C.

The study "What's in My Baby Food?" conducted by the non-profit organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures in 2019, which found that up to most of the baby food on the market contains a high concentration of at least one dangerous heavy metal, led to a more in-depth investigation during the following year.

In February 2021, a congressional report exposing seven major baby food companies whose products were tainted with alarming levels of cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury was made public. The manufacturers of baby food that allowed hazardous products to be sold are Beech-Nut, Gerber, Plum Organics, Kroger, Earth's Best Organic, Parent's Choice and Happy Family Organics.

Heavy Metals and Autism

The report sparked outrage among parents of infants and toddlers across the country, as the findings were highly unsettling. However, the real cause for concern was that regular exposure to heavy metals, which occurs in the case of children who are fed tainted baby food daily, can lead to the development of autism. Indeed, there is a strong causal relationship between heavy metal ingestion and autism spectrum disorders, including childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder, two rare debilitating conditions.

Concerning Findings on Heavy Metals Found in Baby Food

During the investigation, Gerber was found to have used 67 batches of rice flour containing over 90 parts per billion (ppb) arsenic, whereas the safe limit for this heavy metal is ten ppb. To make matters worse, the manufacturer would employ ingredients to produce baby food with lead levels as high as 48 ppb, while the safe limit is only 5 ppb.

However, the company's negligence goes further, as approximately 75% of the carrots it included in its products contained a 5 ppb excess of cadmium, with some having up to 87 ppb. Gerber seldom tested for mercury in baby food, also came to light, which is quite an unnerving practice. This is because crops such as rice, carrots, wheat and potatoes, used in baby food, can absorb a great concentration of heavy metals through the roots from water and soil and pesticides and insecticides.

Another one of the problematic baby food companies is Happy Family Organics, which would sell products with as much as 180 ppb arsenic. Furthermore, more than 25% of the baby food it tested before allowing it on the market contained more than 100 ppb arsenic.

Beech-Nut used ingredients containing over nine times the safe limit for arsenic, namely 913 ppb. Additionally, the company often employed additives with more than 300 ppb arsenic. Lastly, Earth's Best Organic sold baby food with 129 ppb arsenic. Another manufacturer rarely tested the ingredients that would go into baby food, and, even worse, it would not test the finished products at all—only the ingredients.

How Heavy Metal Exposure is Linked to Autism

Some heavy metals promote the good functioning of our bodies, as they are nutritious in small amounts. We are talking about zinc, magnesium, iron, selenium and similar naturally occurring heavy metals. Nevertheless, cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury are highly toxic and poisonous, especially to growing and developing children.

Once they enter the body, they act as neurotoxins, being able to take a heavy toll on the neurodevelopment of babies. Neurotoxins are substances that significantly damage the nervous system, including the brain. They can cross the blood-brain barrier and thus reach the brain, where they will accumulate over the period the baby is fed tainted food.

Lead is one of the most harmful toxic metals. The direct neurotoxic actions of lead include programmed cell death and toxic actions regarding the storage and release of neurotransmitters, which are the body's chemical messengers. The most common symptoms exposure to significant amounts of lead can cause in children include memory loss, cognitive and behavioral problems, and brain damage or mental retardation, which are also present in autism spectrum disorders. Alarmingly, over 500,000 children between 1 and 5 have a lead concentration in their blood above the safe limit set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention across the U.S.

Autism and Heavy Metals in Baby Food

As a neurological and developmental disorder that limits and changes the ability of a child to function, autism implies symptoms such as behavioral changes, social limitations, impaired ability to communicate and sensory processing disorders. One of the most frequently observed symptoms in children with autism is Purkinje cell loss, which can be the consequence of exposure to heavy metals from baby food.

Purkinje cells are unique because they are huge and intricately branched, promoting the accumulation of large amounts of information. Among numerous other factors, they are vulnerable to heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and bismuth.

Regular exposure to heavy metals during infanthood from contaminated baby food was a significant link to autism spectrum disorders. Over the past decades, the prevalence of these disorders has grown fast. From 2007 to 2012, the incidence of autism increased from 1.16% to 2.00% in our country. The rise in the number of cases might connect with the contamination of baby food with heavy metals.

Another statistic that supports this connection is that 1 out of 54 children born after 2008 has autism. Therefore, to be safe, it is best to do your research before deciding what baby food to feed your child, who is vulnerable to neurotoxins, and choose wisely, as most of the baby food on the store shelves is tainted with heavy metals.

Minimizing Children's Exposure to Heavy Metals from Baby Food

When it comes to practical solutions concerning lowering the amount of cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury your baby ingests, the study of Healthy Babies Bright Futures offers some critical advice. You can easily minimize your child's exposure to heavy metals from baby food by implementing these five simple actions:

  • Replace puff snacks with rice-free snacks to lower the concentration of heavy metals by 93%
  • Replace teething biscuits with frozen bananas to reduce the level of heavy metals by 91%
  • Replace infant rice cereal with multigrain to lower the concentration of heavy metals by 84%
  • Replace fruit juice with tap water to reduce the level of heavy metals by 68%
  • Replace carrots and sweet potatoes with a wide range of vegetables to lower the concentration of heavy metals by 73%
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