While certain heavy metals are essential for the proper functioning of our bodies, others can be detrimental to our health when present — even in trace amounts, particularly to growing brains. For example, magnesium is a heavy metal that promotes strong bones, low blood pressure, and improved sleep. But dangerous heavy metals, such as cadmium, arsenic, lead, copper, and mercury, act as neurotoxins damaging the brain.
Children’s still-developing brains are especially susceptible to the negative health consequences of exposure to heavy metals. Dangerous metals target the brain directly. If they accumulate there in large amounts, it can lead to neurodevelopmental abnormalities, including autism spectrum disorders.
Lead Targets Growing Brains Causing Neurotoxicity
Lead is one of the most damaging heavy metals and causes the most severe neurotoxicity in young children. In even the smallest amounts, it can affect the nervous system, impairing brain development and function. Lead exposure is associated with brain damage, memory loss, mental retardation, developmental delays, cognitive and behavioral problems, and violence in children.
Over 500,000 children between the ages of one and five in the U.S. have lead blood levels above the safe limit set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The presence of concentrations of lead in children’s bodies, which can result from being fed tainted baby food, can cause abnormalities to the structure and metabolism of neurons, the primary units of the nervous system.
The main target of lead toxicity is the nervous system, and it can permeate nearly every organ in the body through the blood. Other body parts can be a means of transport and storage too, such as hair, nails, saliva, teeth, and urine. The neurotoxic effects of lead include apoptosis, programmed cell death. It can also impair the storage and release of neurotransmitters, which are the body’s essential chemical messengers. The symptoms of lead exposure can be immediate or delayed.
Autism Spectrum Disorders Linked to Heavy Metal Exposure
Heavy metals including lead, arsenic, and mercury can be found in commercial baby foods at levels well above what the federal government considers safe for children, a new congressional report warns. Frequent exposure to heavy metals during infanthood was found to have a significant link to autism spectrum disorders. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that restricts the ability of a child to function normally. Symptoms can include behavioral issues, social limitations, impaired communication, and sensory processing abnormalities.
Over the past decades, the prevalence of autism has grown rapidly. From 2007 to 2012, the incidence of the disorder rose from 1.16% to 2.00% in the U.S. This rise in the number of autism cases might have a connection with the contamination of store-bought baby food with heavy metals. Another statistic that supports this connection is that 1 out of 54 children born after 2008 has autism.
Congress asked seven major baby food makers to hand over test results and other documents after a 2019 report found that, out of 168 baby food products, 95 percent had at least one heavy metal. Foods with rice or root vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, had the highest levels, but they weren’t the only ones.
Mercury Exposure Can Lead to Oxidative Stress
When examining the relationship between high mercury concentrations and oxidative stress in children with autism, researchers found that the presence of mercury in the brain was associated with neurotrophin-3, a marker of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress disrupts the balance between free radicals and antioxidants.
Free radicals are unstable atoms that can lead to multiple diseases. When free radicals exist in large amounts in children, they can damage fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins, including those in the brain. One study revealed that the higher the mercury concentration in a child’s body was the worse the autism symptoms were. Another study found that environmental and genetic factors might increase oxidative stress in children with autism. Research suggests that high levels of oxidative stress may contribute to the development of autism.
Reduce the Amount of Heavy Metals in an Infant’s Diet
According to the findings of the research team of Healthy Babies Bright Futures, there is a way to drastically reduce the concentration of heavy metals in the food you feed your baby. By replacing the most common baby foods with alternative sources of nutrition, the levels of heavy metals can drop significantly. Try replacing:
- rice puff snacks with rice-free snacks to lower the concentration of heavy metals by 93 percent
- teething biscuits with frozen bananas or chilled cucumbers to reduce the levels of heavy metals by 91percent
- infant rice cereal with multi-grain and oatmeal to lower the concentration of heavy metals by 84 percent
- fruit juice with tap water to reduce the levels of heavy metals by 68 percent
- carrots and sweet potatoes with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Preferably, these substitutes would be organic to lower the concentration of heavy metals by as much as 73 percent.
Jonathan Sharp has been the Chief Financial Officer and Director of Claims at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., for over 20 years. The law firm specializes in toxic exposure and is located in Birmingham, Alabama. His primary responsibilities include financial analysis, managing client relations, collecting and distributing funds, and case evaluation.