Okay, so chances are you clicked on this article because you were thinking “what the hell is are nanoparticles and why are they in baby formula?” Well, I’m going to tell you, and give you all the info from a report just released by Friends of the Earth that tested six major formula brands.
Table of Contents
What is Nanotechnology and What are Nanoparticles?
Nanotechnology allows for the manipulation of things to an insanely small scale, we’re talking crazy small. In more scientific terms, a 1000 times thinner than human hair, hundreds of times smaller than our blood cells. In sports terms, if a nanoparticle were the size of a football, a red blood cell would be the size of the field.
So we’ve established these things are small, but they’re not bad just because they’re small, right? Well, it could be exactly why there’s cause for concern. Manipulating materials in the way that nanotechnology does alters the substance in an unexpected way. An example can be found in sunscreen. Zinc nanoparticles allow normally thick, white sunscreens to become translucent, which sounds like a good thing. That is until we learn that zinc nanoparticles are significantly more toxic than their original, larger form. This seems to be the case with other nanoparticles as well.
These unpredicted outcomes resulting from nanotechnology are exactly why we need more safety testing before nanoparticles are used in our products.
Disclosure: Mamavation is assisting Friends of the Earth organize bloggers around this topic to create awareness. We are not being compensated for writing this post, but we are being compensated to host a Facebook Party around the topic.
So What’s This About Infant Formula?
Friends of the Earth commissioned a laboratory to analyze six popular baby formulas to determine whether they contained nanoparticles. There is no requirement by the FDA to label a product that contains nanoparticles, so lab tests are the only tool we have to gain this information.
The results showed that all six baby formulas tested did in fact contain nanoparticles of some type. Here are the findings:
The three types of nanoparticles found in testing were:
- “needle-like” nano hydroxyapatite,
- nano titanium dioxide (TiO2), and
- nano silica dioxide (SiO2).
According to the report, the nano hydroxyapatite (nano HA) is most likely used as a source of calcium in the infant formula. The TiO2 is used as a brightener or whitener for food and beverage products, and as an anti-caking agent. The Nano silica dioxide is used to assist in the ‘trickle and flow’ of powdered food products, as a clearing agent in beer and wine, as a food additive (amorphous silica found to be nano), and as a food coating.
Each is cause for concern for various reasons. The report goes on to detail previous research and studies on the different types of nanoparticles and their possible dangers.
In October 2015, the European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) provided evidence that nano-hydroxyapatite is potentially toxic, could be absorbed and enter cells, and should not be used in cosmetics such as toothpaste, teeth whiteners and mouth washes.
The available information indicates that nano-hydroxyapatite in needle form is of concern in relation to potential toxicity. Therefore, needle-shaped nano-hydroxyapatite should not be used in cosmetic products. -SCCS
If it’s not safe to be used in cosmetics and put onto our skin, then its safety is also called into question for eating and putting directly into our bodies. It’s also important to note the supplement version carries the following warning on the package:
Caution: For adults only. Consult physician if pregnant/nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition. Keep out of reach of children.
Nano-hydroxyapatite is listed as an inhalation hazard by some chemical companies. More research is needed to determine if powder formulas containing needle-like nanoparticles could pose a concern for workers, and those who come in contact with it like parents and children. It should be noted that similarly shaped nanos were shown to potentially cause lung diseases like asbestos. In addition, nano HA and nano TiO2 increased reactive oxygen species and inflammation cells, according to a 2014 study.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cautioned,
…certain inhaled nanoparticles may be deposited in the respiratory tract and may cause inflammation and damage to lung cells and tissues. -OSHA, 2013
Studies have also shown that nanomaterials can enter the bloodstream via the lungs, raising major occupational health and safety concerns (Oberdörster et al., 2005).
Nano Titanium Dioxide (TiO2)
As mentioned earlier, one of the concerns with nanoparticles is that it can enter into the body’s cells. TiO2 is considered highly mobile in this way. A 2015 study found that food-grade nano titanium dioxide was absorbed into the bloodstream and detected in the blood, liver and spleen in both humans and animals. OSHA had also warned of inhalation concerns for nanoscale TiO2 particles. Occupational exposure (by inhalation) to nanoscale TiO2 particles is considered a potential occupational carcinogen (OSHA, 2013).
With the ability to permeate cells, there is concern over what damage TiO2 can do. Studies show TiO2 can actually damage DNA, disrupt cell function, interfere with immune defense, and carry bacteria fragments into the gastro-intestinal tract, possibly causing inflammation.
Further research on pregnant mice discovered nano titanium dioxide particles were transferred to the offspring. Not only was TiO2 transferred, it also was associated with brain damage, damage to the nervous system, and a reduction in sperm count in the male offspring.
Nano Silica Dioxide (SiO2)
Research of nano silica dioxide had similar findings. In animals, SiO2 was passed to the fetus. When administered orally to rats and mice, nano silica dioxide was found to remain in the rodents’ livers. Additionally, a significant percentage of SiO2 remains undissolved. It’s suspected that even low doses of nanomaterials could cause adverse effects (Dekker et al., 2013).
With new technology comes new risks. Although there are benefits to using nanomaterials, we must consider the concerns.
- They can be more chemically reactive and more bioactive than larger particles of the same chemicals.
- Due to their very small size, nanoparticles have been demonstrated to be more likely than larger particles to enter cells, tissues and organs.
- Greater bioavailability and greater bioactivity may introduce new toxicity risks.
The lead researcher, and author of the Friends of the Earth report had this to say:
I ask myself as I prepare to be a father in the future, would I feed my infant a formula containing these nanomaterials? If I had absolutely no option I might, but with the research I have done I would feel very uneasy about it and I would do what I can to avoid these products. -Ian Illuminato, Health and Environment Campaigner, Friends of the Earth U.S.
As the researcher expressed above, the presence of nanoparticles is particularly concerning in baby formula because infants may be more at risk. Children are inherently more vulnerable as they’re still developing their immune, central nervous, reproductive and digestive systems. Being exposed to toxins such as nanoparticles can cause irreversible damage and may increase the risk of developing certain diseases later on.
So What Should We Do?
Ultimately, there isn’t enough information to prove that nanoparticles are safe to feed infants and children. Considering we’re giving baby formula to those that are most vulnerable, they should be screened and regulated to ensure safety. Currently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not guarantee or approve infant formulas before they can be sold. They must meet nutritional requirements and are screened for pathogens, but not screened for safety or the inclusion of nanomaterials or potentially toxic synthetic ingredients.
A product fed to millions of infants should not be permitted to go to market if we are not certain that the ingredients it contains are safe for human consumption. –Friends of The Earth
It happens in other parts of the world. The European Union has policies in place regarding nanotechnologies and requires labeling. The EU is working towards a moratorium of foods containing nanomaterials, and other countries such as France, Belgium, and Denmark, require nanomaterials to be registered.
Here in the US we have no mandatory safety standards and no labeling when it comes to nanomaterials. The average consumer does not have the means to test for nanomaterials in their foods, as Friends of the Earth did, and expecting them to do so is ridiculous. The testing performed found no formulas that were free of nanomaterials, yet none of the packaging indicated their presence. That’s just not good enough when it comes to our children’s health and safety.
Let Your Voice be Heard
Now that you have an understanding of why nanoparticles are concerning, especially in baby formula, it’s time to take action.
- Join in signing the Friends of the Earth petition to demand Gerber, Similac, Emfamily & Advantage reformulate.
- Join the Mamavation Facebook party on Thursday, May 19th at 6pm PST/7pm MST/8pm CST/9pm EST to learn more and get the word out about this issue.
Illuminato, I., Friends of the Earth U.S. (2016) .Nanoparticles in Baby Formula: Tiny new ingredients are a big concern.
Dekker, S., Bouwmeester, H., Bos, P.M., Peters, R.J., Rietveld, A.G., Oomen, A.G. (2013). Knowledge gaps in risk assessment of
nanosilica in food: evaluation of the dissolution and toxicity of different forms of silica. Nanotoxicology, 7(4):367–377, 368.
Oberdörster, G., Maynard, A., Donaldson, K., Castranova, V., Fitzpatrick, J., Ausman, K., Carter, J., Karn, B., Kreyling, W., Lai, D., Olin, S., Monteiro-Riviere, N., Warheit, D., Yang, H., and ILSI Research Foundation/Risk Science Institute Nanomaterial Toxicity Screening Working Group (2005). Principles for characterising the potential human health effects from exposure to nanomaterials:elements of a screening strategy. Particle Fibre Toxicology, 2:8.