Organic brown rice syrup may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer due to the increase of arsenic in the body, according to researchers. Brown rice syrup is a very popular sweetener for many individual's who must eat gluten free. Adding this syrup to any food or beverage may increase levels of arsenic in the body. Exposure to arsenic in young children may lead to poor intellectual development and a lower IQ.
Ana Navas-Acien, MD, and assistant professor of environmental health sciences and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, says that the research provides very strong evidence for this fact. Earlier studies have shown high levels of arsenic in rice cereals, which was commonly used as a transition food while starting solid meals in toddlers. Considering body weight, babies and young children are more exposed to arsenic from a given serving of food, when compared to adults. The developing organs of these children are sensitive to any type of negative exposure, and are easily affected by it.
Researcher Brian P. Jackson, PhD, director of trace metal analysis at Dartmouth College in Hanover, suggests that there is an urgent need for more regulations and guidelines regarding the healthy amounts of arsenic in food. According to him and many other researchers, rice-based foods are the first foods to be checked for levels of arsenic. Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd, a spokesperson for the USA Rice Federation, says that rice-based foods in US are safe to consume and assures that US regulatory officials are looking into this issue, especially in the case of organic rice food products.
In the present study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, arsenic levels in 17 different brands of rice-based formula for infants and toddlers were tested. Researchers also analyzed 29 energy bars, three energy gels, portable carbohydrates used by endurance athletes, and three organic brown rice syrups. Organic brown rice syrups are used by many as an alternative to sugar in baked goods and beverages.
The results show that high arsenic levels are present in products that have rice syrup or rice as the top five ingredients. The rice syrups themselves also had very high levels of arsenic in them. In bars and energy gels, the type of arsenic noted was the most toxic form, inorganic arsenic. This may not be very concerning as gels and bars are not an everyday food, and body can clear the single dose of arsenic within a few days. It is very dangerous when the levels are high in staple foods.
Among the baby formulas, two products that listed brown rice syrup as their first ingredient had arsenic levels two to five times higher than the allowable limits. “Children who are fed with these formulas are exposed to very high relative doses of arsenic and this is really concerning”, says Michael Bloom, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of environmental health sciences at the University of Albany, State University of New York, in Rensselaer. The levels detected in the infant formula may not cause any immediate illnesses. This exposure to more than 50 micrograms per liter may lead to reduced IQ levels and brain function, when compared to children who drink water with arsenic levels below 5.5 micrograms per liter.
Arsenic is a colorless, tasteless, and highly soluble substance that may persist in the soil for a long time. It is normally used as a fertilizer and a wood preservative. Rice absorbs a large amount of arsenic as it grows in water. Moreover, the amount of arsenic is higher in brown rice, as the absorbed arsenic is stored in the darker outer layers of rice, called the germ.
Studies have shown that long term exposure to arsenic is linked to cancers of bladder, liver, kidney, skin, prostate and lungs. Increased arsenic levels are also linked to heart diseases.