Rx for Readers: Grain concerns

Readers gets their health questions answered.

Durum wheat (illustrative) (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE/STEFANO RELLANDINI/REUTERS)
Durum wheat (illustrative)
I recently saw a children’s TV show that discussed nutrition, and a clinical dietitian said that wholegrain rice used to be considered the most healthful.
But she said it was discovered recently that brown rice has arsenic in it, and that when brown rice is turned to white rice by the exterior being removed, the arsenic is removed. She advised eating white rice instead of brown, and I thought her advice was wrong. I eat brown rice about once a week, and now I am worried about cooking and eating it and serving it to my family.
Is there anything to this fear about arsenic?
M.Y., Kfar Saba
The Health Ministry replies: Arsenic is a natural element all over the globe that is found at relatively low levels in the soil, water and air. It is absorbed by animals and all plants, including fruits and vegetables that take it in from the soil and irrigation water. Thus, it is impossible to avoid exposure to it completely. There are two forms of arsenic – organic (arsenic attached to carbon) and inorganic arsenic (not attached to carbon); negative health effects are sometimes attributed to inorganic arsenic.
Relative to other crops, during growth the rice plant tends to absorb more arsenic from the soil and irrigation water compared to other grains, cereals, seeds and legumes. The amount of exposure to arsenic from rice depends on both the levels of the element in the rice itself and how much rice is consumed. Brown rice (with the shell intact) contains higher levels of arsenic than white rice, whose shell is removed. Although rice is a staple in certain countries, the consumption in the Western world, including in Israel, is relatively low.
Infants eating baby food consume three times the amount of rice in proportion to their body weight than adults do. In the US, rice consumption reaches a peak in relation to body weight at the age of eight months. Therefore, proportionally, babies fed on ricebased products may be exposed to higher levels of arsenic than the general public. Thus, European studies have found that infants and toddlers up to the age of three years are exposed to the highest levels relative to their body weight.
It may be that high exposure of pregnant women to inorganic arsenic can cause adverse effects, such as low birth weight, on fetal development. In later stages of life, the learning capabilities of young children exposed to high levels of inorganic arsenic may be affected.
The US Food and Drug Administration estimates that US consumption of rice and rice products adds four cases of lung cancer and bladder cancer during a lifetime for every 100,000 residents, but this is a very low risk.
The FDA sets a limit of 0.01 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram in rice products for babies and toddlers.
Israel set guidelines for maximum levels of arsenic in food in 2004, and these levels were updated in 2009 and again this year.
As Israel imports its rice from the same countries as do other countries around the world, the arsenic level is no different.
Food imported here is sampled and tested randomly for various pollutants, including heavy metals, before being allowed to reach the market. Foods intended for babies and infants are tested more thoroughly for a wide range of contaminants, including arsenic.
Rice-based baby food that contains iron is a good food source for the baby, but it should not serve as a single food source for infant nutrition. You can also give iron-fortified food based on oats, barley, legumes and seed mixes.
Pregnant women should diversify their diet so it contains a variety of grains and seeds. Cooking rice in a large amount of water (six to 10 volumes of water for each volume of rice) and filtering the water after cooking reduces the inorganic arsenic content by 40 percent to 60%.
The bottom line is that there are no scientific or health data to support a recommendation to reduce adult consumption of brown rice due to the presence of inorganic arsenic. In any case, all diets should combine multiple sources of food.
Our daughter, our third child, was born six weeks ago and is healthy. The hospital did not notice any problem. But a month after delivery, we noticed that she holds her head most of the time tilted to the left side.
Her doctor said it was torticollis and that we should return to him in a month. We are very worried. What is torticollis? What causes it? What is the treatment for it? How long will it take for her neck to straighten out? Are there any complications?
E. and R.R., Tel Aviv
Prof. Arthur Eidelman, emeritus professor of pediatrics at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and the Hebrew University Medical Faculty and of the Ben-Gurion University Faculty of Health Sciences, answers: Torticollis literally means “twisted neck” and is a condition where this is a permanent turning of the baby’s head to one side. The causes are many and include among other things the effect of position in the womb, an imbalance of tone in the neck muscles, or irritation to the neck muscles.
It is generally not a serious condition. In mild cases, it corrects itself, but the baby may need physiotherapy in the more severe cases (a fixed position of the head and no spontaneous turning to the other side). Torticollis should be evaluated by a physician familiar with the condition to evaluate need for physiotherapy and how to instruct the mother in the proper positioning of the infant’s head.
Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 9100002, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or email it to jsiegel@jpost.com, giving your initials, age and place of residence.