By Michelle Dickinson 02/07/2017


Wow, now this is a new headline that would scare the bejeebers out of you if you were currently using baby formula:

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The Sydney Morninig Herald goes on to say:

A world-leading team in nanotechnology at Arizona State University tested seven off-the-shelf baby formula products and found two – Nestle’s NAN HA 1 Gold and Nature’s Way Kids Smart 1 – contained needle-shaped hydroxyapatite nanoparticles.

Hydroxyapatite nanoparticles – those sound scary right?

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Hydroxyapatite – the main mineral found in bone (source)

Well, lets start with the long word – hydroxyapatite. This is a naturally forming mineral made from calcium and phosphates.  It is the main material that your bones and teeth are made from and exists in a colloidal form in milk.

When you dry milk to make baby formula, the water is removed and the milk is concentrated down into small particles also known as a powder.

 

Now let’s move on to the word – nanoparticles.  These are tiny particles with at least one dimension less than 100 nanometres or around 1000 times thinner than the width of your hair.
Your silver jewelry will be giving off silver nanoparticles right now, and your sunscreen will be using them to protect you from UV rays.  They are in our food, our electronics, even our stained glass windows!

So the headline really should read:

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However that sort of title is not going to sell newspapers.

Still worried? Lets dig deeper into the research.

The study was commissioned and published by Friends of the Earth which is an environmental advocacy group.  In it they analysed six off-the-shelf baby formulas bought in America, five of which were powders and one was a liquid concentrate.

They dissolved the baby formula in water, spun it around to pull out the particles and put them into a Transmission Electron Microscope to see what the tiny particles looked like.

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TEM image of nanoparticles found in baby formula (source)

What they found were all sorts of shapes and sizes of particles which contained calcium, phosphorous and oxygen.  These are also the same elements that make up bones and teeth.

When it comes to particles, the shape and size can make a difference between safe and unsafe, as some particles if small enough could move into our bloodstream through the wall of our gut after we eat them.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are harmful, every single day we are all inhaling, and eating nanoparticles that are just around us in our environment.

Potentially toxic?

toast-1077984_1920For example; if you had a piece of toast for breakfast, you would likely have eaten carbon nanoparticles, which to the human eye look like the burned bits on the top. I don’t see any headlines scaring people about nano dangers in toast so where did the “potentially toxic” part of this headline come from?

Well, in 2016 the European Commission published a consumer safety study that looked at nano hydroxyapatite.

Their summary was that “nano-hydroxyapatite in needle shaped form is of concern in relation to potential toxicity in cosmetic products”.

They based this on research which they admitted was not in line with the SCCS Memorandum on Relevance, Adequacy and Quality of Data in Safety Dossiers on Nanomaterials.  None of the studies they looked at actually exposed any people to the substance.  The few studies that were carried out used rats, and the study that caused the most concern injected 50 mg/kg body-weight of needle shaped nano-hydroxyapatite into the tail veins of 6 male Sprague Dawley rast.  Just for context the lethal dose of nano-hydroxyapatite is 200 mg/kg body-weight, so their bloodstreams were filled with some pretty high doses of nano needles.  After 48 hours, they analysed the livers of the rats and found some inflammatory cell infiltration and increased white blood cell levels in the rats.  This study, where rats are injected with medium to high doses of nano hydroxyapatite directly into their bloodstream and is how the particles became labelled “potentially toxic”.  The report clearly shows the other studies where rats that were rubbed with or injected with needle shaped nano hydrixyapatite particles showed little to no reaction.

It’s important to remember when reading this that its not just how much of a material we’re exposed to that is important, but also the pathway to exposure can make a difference.

Particle fever

So what happens to these needle shaped nano hydroxyapatite crystals when you baby ingests them?  Well the friends of the earth study exposed them to different gastric fluid solutions and found that they rapidly and almost instantaneously dissolved.  Basically this scientific test implies that when your baby drinks the formula, the nanoparticles dissolve in their stomach ready for the calcium and phosphate be absorbed by the body.

The skeptics among you may still be concerned that hydroxyapatite nanoparticles are in baby food, but let me just note that research has shown that we form calcium phosphate nanoparticles naturally in our stomachs to help increase the our intestinal immune system.

For those nano-phobes still among us, it might be worth sharing this image:

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Image showing natural breast milk contains nano particles (source)

which shows that normal human breast milk is naturally composed of nano particles of milk fat casein-protein globules – see not all nanoparticles are scary or dangerous.

So in conclusion, scientific jargon has been used to scare parents using evidence from a scientific paper which has findings of no special significance.

Based on current research, the hydroxyapatite nanoparticles found in baby formula are most likely safe, are in small doses, in a form that your baby can easily digest and could even be beneficial for your baby in the long run.