Monday, October 6, 2008

9.8 Baby formula

By now, 53,000 babies in China have been sickened by melamine-tainted milk and 4 have already died (left: a baby holding a can of Sanlu powdered milk). And milk products from China are now banned in many countries around the World.

Ideally, there should not be any melamine in any food anywhere. Unfortunately, melamine is ubiquitous. Chances are the favorite plastic dish/cup of yours or the counter top in your kitchen was made in part from melamine. The upper safety limit in food set by both the EU and the US is now 2.5 ppm (or 2.5 mg/kg). For babies, 1 ppm in China [in Taiwan, the upper limit for powder milk for babies is at a far more stringent 0.05 ppm]. In the US, the tolerable daily intake is set, for now, at 0.63 mg/kg body weight/day.

Let's do some simple math: Assuming you weigh 50 kg, the daily melamine limit is then 0.63 x 50 = 31.5 mg. Then even if you consume 31.5/2.5 = 12.6 kg of milk powder everyday, it is still "safe". And for a 12-month-old baby weighing 10 kg at the 1 ppm limit, it'll be a 1 kg consumption per day - still quite a lot of milk. Unfortunately, the melamine content in Sanlu powdered milk putatively was as high as a mind-boggling 2,560 ppm. So forget the math, the stuff is highly toxic all right.

The most logical alternative to powdered cow milk is of course mother's milk. While this may not always be possible, for those making the switch, more about milk and the eyes:

The following are extracted from an interesting article by Hoffman et al: "Maturation of visual acuity is accelerated in breast-fed term infants fed baby food containing DHA-enriched egg yolk". J Nutr 134:2307-2313, 2004:

The authors divided 6-month-old breast-feeding babies into two groups: (1) the DHA group that received each day, one jar of baby food (113 g) containing egg yolk enriched with 115 mg/100 g DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and (2) the same but no DHA (i.e., the control group).

Both groups continued to breast-feed for a mean of 9 months. In the control group, the red cell DHA levels decreased significantly between 6 and 12 months (from 3.8 to 3.0 g/100 g total fatty acids), whereas in the DHA group, the levels increased from 4.1 to 5.5 g/100 g.

VEP (visually evoked response) acuity at 6 months was 0.49 logMAR (minimum angle of resolution) which improved to 0.29 logMAR by 12 months in the control group. In the DHA group, VEP acuity was 0.48 logMAR at 6 months and which matured to 0.14 logMAR at 12 months. In other words, 1.5 lines (on the eye chart) better visual acuity than the controls. So an adequate dietary supply of DHA throughout the first year of life maybe necessary for visual maturation. The stereo-acuity on the other hand was not affected by DHA.

Interestingly, DHA concentration in human milk varies from as little as 0.1% of total fatty acids in women on Western diets to as much as 1.4% in Inuit women in North America and 2.78% in Chinese women from a fishing village, both of the latter consumed large amounts of marine animal foods.

Hmm... So the old-wives' tale of "fish is brain food", by way of DHA, is quite profound and is actually scientifically accurate! [We don't need to repeat that the brain is the extension of the eyes, do we.]