Notre Dame Professor thinks that Infant Formula contains Rocket Fuel
No, the title is not hyperbole.
Dr Darcia Narvaez Ph.D. and professor of Psychology at Notre Dame University, apparently thinks that powdered infant formula contains rocket fuel.
First, a little context. On January 24, 2016 Dr. Narvaez posted this article, about the dangers of infant formula. I responded, both on this blog and in the comment section. Many of the comments have since been deleted.
What began as a minor comment war quickly devolved into a dive down the rabbit hole of pseudoscience.
I won’t repeat my breakdown of her original article as I’ve done so in another post. Her argument boils down to breast milk being superior and powdered formula being dangerous, therefore everyone should breastfeed their children. The crux of the issue at hand was a statement she made in the original version of her post:
…breast milk, a 30 million year old substance with thousands of ingredients is supposed equivalent to a “scientific” formula with a couple of dozen of non-human ingredients that are unregulated and contain toxins
I commented on this article, pointing out that the FDA does in fact regulate breastmilk and that I couldn’t find any reputable source for her “toxins” claim.
In addition you removed the “toxins” part of the quote but have not addressed the error. At least the article now does not claim that formula contains toxins.
You see, the whole “toxins” language upsets me deeply. Saying that you think formula is not as healthy as breastmilk is one thing, but stating that formula, which many mothers need, contains “toxins” needlessly creates fear when there is no evidence that powdered infant formula is toxic. Which is why I pointed this out.
My students did the review of formula regulation a few years ago. They found that toxins found in formula include rocket fuel: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=7242880
To be clear, she wrote this in the comments section of her blog, not in the blog post proper. But… rocket fuel in baby formula? How can someone who holds a position at a well respected university such as Notre Dame make such an easily debunked claim? She appears to have no understanding of science or evidence based reasoning.
It’s almost as if she didn’t think I’d click on the link. I did. The story is about a study by the CDC that determined that perchlorates are present in low levels in infant formula. How low? Well below the level the EPA deems to be safe. The following is paraphrased from my response (screenshot) to her, because I feel this needs to be thoroughly debunked (Edit 1/26/15 @ 1000: She has since deleted my response but the screenshot survives):
The chemical found, perchlorate (ClO4−), is indeed a component of rocket propellants (specifically ammonium perchlorate, NH4ClO4) and perchlorate salts can have deleterious effects on thyroid function in high enough quantities. Specifically it decreases the thyroid’s ability to absorb iodine. However, due to its effects on the thyroid, perchlorates (potassium perchlorate, KClO4, in this instance) is in fact used by the medical community to treat hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Perchlorates in general have varied uses and, in the right amount (greater than 0.007 milligrams per kilogram per day), can be toxic. It should also be noted that perchlorates are naturally occurring chemicals, although most likely the levels in our environment are higher than they would be due to manufacturing pollution.
I read the study1)Schier, J. G., Wolkin, A. F., Valentin-Blasini, L., Belson, M. G., Kieszak, S. M., Rubin, C. S., & Blount, B. C. (2010). Perchlorate exposure from infant formula and comparisons with the perchlorate reference dose. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, 20(3), 281–287. http://doi.org/10.1038/jes.2009.18 the News article covered and the actual paper’s results are far different than the news article’s headline.
First of all perchlorates were found in 15 brands of infant formula, yet all of these samples were collected in a single city rather than being a sampling of multiple manufacturing plants across the US. Second, the amounts of perchlorates found in all of the samples was below the EPA’s maximum perchlorate reference dose (rfd) of 0.007 mg/kg per day. There was concern that using tap water that was also contaminated with perchlorates (as is the case in, according to the study, “roughly 5.4% of US utilities in at least 26 states and 2 territories”) may raise this dose above the maximum rfd, but as the researchers note if this is the case perchlorates would also be present in the mother’s breastmilk unless she doesn’t drink tap water or eat food prepared with tap water, and if this is the case would she really prepare formula with tap water? (It should also be noted that powdered formula is required by the FDA to contain iodine which most likely will combat the deleterious effects of high perchlorate levels and the iodine levels in breastmilk from women who are not taking iodine supplements is most likely lower than what is recommended.2)Mulrine, H. M., Skeaff, S. A., Ferguson, E. L., Gray, A. R., & Valeix, P. (2010). Breast-milk iodine concentration declines over the first 6 mo postpartum in iodine-deficient women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92(4), 849–856. http://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2010.29630
Given the low incidence of tap water contamination, the risk is relatively low, and did not appear to the CDC nor the EPA to be enough cause to recommend against the ingestion of infant formula.
In short, the misleading statement about finding “rocket fuel” in infant formula is not backed up by the reference provided.
I find only two logical possibilities here. First, that Dr. Narvaez actually believes that there is rocket fuel in powdered formula. I think we can dismiss this one as being (I hope) ludicrous. The second, and more likely, explanation for her wildly inaccurate statement is that she found the first news article that wasn’t from Natural News or Mercola that supported her claim and posted it, possibly skimming the contents.
What’s more concerning is the fact that she promoted such pseudoscientific nonsense. Infant formula does not contain rocket fuel (no one, apart from possibly Dr. Narvaez, would actually believe this). Infant formula does not contain “toxins”, and to say so without any evidence is dangerous. It will give mothers the unfounded fear that they are poisoning their children. I would expect this from a food blogger like Food Babe, but from a Ph.D. professor of Psychology at Notre Dame (hardly a bottom tier university) is simply astounding.
The featured image for this article is Rocket Launch by Pixabay user WikiImages. It is available under a Creative Commons 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Schier, J. G., Wolkin, A. F., Valentin-Blasini, L., Belson, M. G., Kieszak, S. M., Rubin, C. S., & Blount, B. C. (2010). Perchlorate exposure from infant formula and comparisons with the perchlorate reference dose. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, 20(3), 281–287. http://doi.org/10.1038/jes.2009.18|
|2.||↑||Mulrine, H. M., Skeaff, S. A., Ferguson, E. L., Gray, A. R., & Valeix, P. (2010). Breast-milk iodine concentration declines over the first 6 mo postpartum in iodine-deficient women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92(4), 849–856. http://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2010.29630|