TAU researchers study children affected by Remedia scandal

Formula without vitamin B1 damaged long-term health.

New born baby (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
New born baby
Thirteen years after the lack of vitamin B1 in Remedia’s vegetarian baby formula – commissioned by an Israeli company, imported from Germany as a special formula and approved by Health Ministry officials – led to the deaths of three infants and severe or potentially severe injury of more than 20 others from malnutrition, Tel Aviv University researchers have confirmed how the damage was caused and how it affected those babies who survived.
Prof. Aviva Fattal-Valevski, of TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine and the director of the pediatric neurology unit at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, and her master’s student Yael Harel published their findings in the latest issue of Maternal and Child Nutrition.
They found that infantile deficiency of the vitamin (also known as thiamine) severely affected the motor function of the children who survived being fed with the faulty formula in the first year of their lives.
The conclusions were based on a retrospective study of children who received Remedia in 2004.
Ministry officials who failed to supervise and examine imports were convicted and punished, as were people from the German company that manufactured the formula.
The team members followed the development of 39 fiveto six-year-old children who had been exposed to the thiamine- deficient formula as infants. They compared their motor performance with 30 age-matched healthy children with unremarkable infant nutritional history.
The participants’ motor function was evaluated with the Movement Assessment Battery for Children and the Zuk Assessment. Both tests revealed statistically significant differences between the exposed and unexposed groups for gross and fine motor development. The differences were especially clear regarding balance-control functioning and fine motor skills.
The assessments concurred on the high rate of children exhibiting motor function difficulties in comparison to the unexposed group.
The infant deaths caused by the Remedia formula brought to light the devastating impact of vitamin B1 deficiency. The infants were hospitalized with cardiac and neurological symptoms caused by the lack of vitamin B1, which is usually found in baby formula.
“At first it was a mystery,” said Fattal-Valevski. “It was like an epidemic. But after the mothers discussed the situation in the waiting room, it became clear that the infants, all under a year old, had consumed the same formula.
“After a food technician from the ministry confirmed the total lack of vitamin B1 in the formula, we immediately provided the infants with supplements.
Some recovered quickly, but three infants died and about 20 infants were left with severe disabilities and epilepsy.”
“The body’s capacity for storing vitamin B1 is limited,” she continued. “Unlike vitamin B12, vitamin B1 is stored in the body only for three weeks. It needs to be frequently replenished.
It is critical to be aware of how important this vitamin is for child development. Even healthy babies might be at risk for B1 deficiency. If your infant is suffering from virus after virus, you must intervene with extra vitamins. But it’s a vicious cycle, because one of the first symptoms of lack of B1 in the system is an absence of appetite,” Fattal-Valevski wrote.
“We’ve proven that B1 deficiency in infancy has long-term implications on gross and fine motor function and balance skills in childhood,” said the team head. “Our study emphasizes the importance of proper infant feeding [breastfeeding] and regulatory control of breast milk substitutes.”
The researchers are now focusing on the link between infant B1 deficiency and later learning disabilities.