Have you heard of nanoparticles? Little is known about the long-term health effects of this man-made technology, and yet we’re putting them into all sorts of cosmetics and foods—including food for our most vulnerable population.
What do you need to know about nanoparticles in baby formula?
What is Nanotechnology?
Nanoparticles are minute-sized engineered particles approximately one thousand times thinner than a human hair.
Synthetic nanotechnology is a relatively new phenomenon and involves the manipulation of materials at a microscopic level. Zinc particles, for example, can be reduced in such a way that typically white zinc can become translucent. Sunscreens, therefore, need no longer leave a white residue.
The problem is that we know little about the health effects of this type of manipulation. What we do know is that they are more chemically reactive and more bioactive than larger particles, in part because their small size permits them to enter cells, tissues, and organs, thus expanding the risk of toxicity.
What’s more, because this technology is so new, there are no laws in place when it comes to regulating nanoparticles. Where does this leave the consumer? Especially when it comes to infants?
Nanoparticles in Baby Formula
On May 17, 2016, the consumer watchdog group Friends of the Earth released an alarming report identifying three types of nanoparticles found in six different baby formulas. Read the report in its entirety here.
Three Types of Nanoparticles Found in Popular Baby Formula
Nano-hydroxyapatite (nano-HA) is most likely a source of calcium in the formula. It’s possible that it’s being used as an abrasive, bulking, and emulsion stabilizer. Typically the needle form is used in oral and bone surgeries. The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has suggested that nano-HA in needle form is toxic and should not be used in cosmetics such as toothpaste, teeth whiteners, and mouthwashes.
This Material Safety Data Sheet from Sigma-Aldrich says to avoid contact and inhalation. While the amounts surely differ, does it make sense to put a known hazard in baby formula?
2. Nano titanium dioxide
Nano titanium dioxide, or TiO2, is a food whitener for food and beverage products and serves as an anti-caking agent. Studies show that TiO2 can damage DNA, disrupt cell function, and trigger inflammation due to the adsorbing properties of these tiny particles. A 2015 study found that food grade TiO2 is readily absorbed into the bloodstream. (See the study here.)
Dunkin’ Donuts removed TiO2 from their products in 2015, so it’s clearly possible to formulate foods without this risky ingredient.
3. Nano silica dioxide
Nano silica is used as a flowing agent in powdered food products and as a clearing agent in beer and wine. It’s also used as a food coating. Research shows that a significant percentage of nano silica remains undissolved and stays in the gut. (See the study here.)
The Call for Government Regulation
Nanoparticles are nowhere to be found on baby formula labels. Unfortunately, there is no mandatory oversight of nanoparticles. Labeling is strictly voluntary and non-binding. (See the FDA stance on nanotechnology here.)
With this report, Friends of the Earth is calling on the FDA to go beyond voluntary guidelines, asking them to:
- Enact a moratorium on new commercial nanotech products
- Assess safety (test) and recall baby formulas with nanoparticle ingredients
- Regulate nanomaterials as novel substances
- Extend the size-based definition of nanomaterials up to 500 nm in size
- Protect workers
- Label products that contain nanomaterials
What about baby formula makers?
Friends of the Earth is asking manufacturers to:
- Recall formula
- Remove nanomaterials
- Create nanomaterial policies and ensure transparency in labeling
What Can I Do?
The first step is to become informed, which you’re doing by reading this post. Learn much more by reading the Friends of the Earth report here. Other actions include:
- Breastfeed (or encourage breastfeeding) when possible.
- Contact baby formula manufacturers (even if their products are organic). Ask them if they use nanoparticles. If so, ask them to remove them
This edition of The Connecting Place features and interview with lead researcher Ian Illuminato.