New research from the UK found that a range of well known brands of baby formula sold there contain too much aluminum. Even though it’s common knowledge that infant formulas have been contaminated with aluminum for decades, this new study published in the journal BMC Pediatrics, raises concern over children’s health risks, pointing out that levels are still too high. Manufacturers don’t seem to consider it a health issue, but this non-essential element has been linked to diseases. What’s more, the concentrations of aluminum found in baby formulas are up to 40 times higher than those found in breast milk. A product made for preemies and a soy-based formula have particularly high levels of the contaminant. Studies have not shown that aluminum in formula causes adverse effects, but they haven’t shown the opposite either.

Why the Concern?

Researchers looked at 15 brands of infant formula sold in the UK including powdered, liquid, cow’s milk-based and soy-based products. Typically, powdered formulas contained more aluminum than liquid formulas. The results showed that infants using the formula would ingest up to 600 mcg of aluminum per day, an amount several times higher than what’s typically allowed in drinking water!

Even though scientists haven’t found a direct link between health issues and aluminum in formula, the possibilities of health problems are concern enough for many considering infants and preemies are a vulnerable bunch. And because infants’ gastrointestinal tracts, blood-brain barrier and kidneys are not yet developed, it’s widely accepted that infants are more vulnerable to aluminum toxicity.

There have been links between parenteral exposure of preterm infants to a level of aluminum exposure that’s possible from regular formula feeding over many weeks, and nuerodevelopmental affects and significant affects on bone health later in adolescence. This is a good reason for more research to be conducted on the impact of aluminum in infant formulas.

Why So Much Aluminum?

Manufacturers don’t add aluminum to infant formula, so how does it get in there? Researchers speculate a number of possible reasons including processing equipment, aluminum-based packaging, and in soy formulas, it’s likely due to prior aluminum accumulation in the soybean plants, a common occurrence.

After the jump, compare the numbers between formula and breast milk and find out how to keep your baby safe.

Breaking Down the Numbers

Here are the results of a few of the 15 baby formulas tested.

Cow & Gate Nutriprem: 700 mcg/L

Aptamil Follow-On Milk Ready-Made: 296.1 mcg/L

Aptamil Follow-On Milk Powdered: 592.4 mcg/L

Hipp Organic Growing-Up Milk: 176 mcg/L

*Breast milk: 15 – 39 mcg/L

What You Can Do

Even if you’re lucky enough to breastfeed exclusively, it’s always troubling to hear about tainted formula. And for those that fall into the majority — according to the Centers for Disease Control most babies in the US drink some formula in the first year — it lends the question, “how do I find a safe formula?” The Environmental Working Group suggests starting by choosing a powdered formula, which typically includes less BPA due to the container it comes in. Read our guide to choosing a safe infant formula for more tips.

Image: Alessandro Perilli