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There is (still) too much aluminium in infant formulas

01 September 2010 Keele University

The aluminium content of a range of the most popular brands of infant formulas remains
high, and particularly so for a product designed for preterm infants and a soya-based
product designed for infants with cow’s milk intolerances and allergies, researchers have found.

A study by a team at Keele University in Staffordshire, led by Dr Chris Exley with Shelle-Ann M Burrell, demonstrating the vulnerability of infants to early exposure to aluminium serves to highlight an urgent need to reduce the aluminium content of infant formulas to as-low-a-level as is practically possible.

Infant formulas are integral to the nutritional requirements of preterm and term infants. While it has been known for decades that infant formulas are contaminated with significant amounts of aluminium there is little evidence that manufacturers consider this to be a health issue. Aluminium is non-essential and is linked to human disease. There is evidence of both immediate and delayed toxicity in infants, and especially preterm infants, exposed to aluminium and the team contends that there is still too much aluminium in infant formulas.

There has been a long and significant history documenting the contamination of infant
formulas by aluminium and consequent health effects in children. Through these and other publications manufacturers of infant formulas have been made fully aware of the potentially compounded issue of both the contamination by aluminium and the heightened vulnerability, from the point of view of a newborn’s developing physiology, of infants fed such formulas.

There have been similar warnings over several decades in relation to aluminium toxicity and parenteral nutrition of preterm and term infants. To these ends the expectation would be that the aluminium content of current infant formulas would at the very least be historically low and at best would be as low as might be achieved for a processed product. The team tested this premise and found that the aluminium content of a range of branded infant formulas remains too high.

The researchers chose 15 different branded infant formula products. These included
powdered and ready-made liquid formulas based on cow’s milk and a soya-based product. The categories of formulas included those for preterm babies, stage one (0-6 months) and stage two (6 months plus) infants. All products were stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Products were sampled directly from their packaging to avoid extraneous contamination. Ready-made liquid products were shaken between each sampling.

In general, the aluminium content of formulas prepared from powdered milks were significantly higher than ready-made milks.

Commercially available branded infant formulas used by literally millions of parents
to feed children of up to 12 months-plus of age are still significantly contaminated
with aluminium. The concentrations of aluminium in the milk formulas varied from
ca 200 – 700 μg/L and would result in the ingestion of up to 600 μg of aluminium per
day.

The concentrations of aluminium in infant formulas are up to 40 times higher than are present in breast milk. These concentrations are all several times higher than are allowed in drinking water. They are clearly too high for human consumption and certainly too high for consumption by such a vulnerable group as pre-term and term infants.

The suggestion is that these products are ‘contaminated’ with aluminium as each
of the manufacturers insist that aluminium is not knowingly added to their products.

The sources of such contamination are myriad though would probably include equipment used in both processing and storing of bulk products. In addition many of the formulas were packaged for sale using aluminium-based materials. The high content of aluminium in the soya-based formula probably reflects its prior accumulation in the soybean plant and the known aluminium tolerance of some soybean cultivars that are grown on acid soils.

While it is the case that the present levels of aluminium in infant formulas have not been shown to cause adverse effects in healthy infants, it is also the case that there have not been any clinical studies which refute such as a possibility. Previous research has highlighted the potential toxicity of aluminium in infants with confounding disorders (including, prematurity, poor renal function and gastrointestinal disease) and fed infant formulas and these studies when viewed alongside aluminium’s known connections with medicine and human disease
should at least deter complacency concerning this issue. It is widely accepted that
the not fully developed physiologies of infant’s gastrointestinal tract, kidneys and
blood-brain barrier may predispose them to aluminium toxicity and while there are no definitive links between aluminium exposure through infant formulas and immediate or delayed toxicity in healthy infants this neither should not nor does not preclude such as a possibility.

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