Most of us now know that packaged fruit juices contain too much sugar, but a Consumer Report has also found harmful levels of Lead, Mercury, Cadmium and Arsenic in 45 fruit juices sold across America and many of them marketed directly to children. And that’s only in the juices they tested.
“In some cases, drinking just 4 ounces a day—or half a cup—is enough to raise concern,” says James Dickerson, Ph.D., CR’s chief scientific officer.
The CR tests focused on Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, and inorganic Arsenic (the type most harmful to health) because they pose some of the greatest risks, and prior research suggests they are common in food and drink. So imagine what else they contain that was not tested for.
According to the CR: “Americans, especially the nation’s children, drink a lot of juice. More than 80 percent of parents of children age 3 and younger give their kids fruit juice at least sometimes, according to a recent national Consumer Reports survey of 3,002 parents. In 74 percent of those cases, kids drink juice once a day or more.”
Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of heavy metals. “Exposure to these metals early on can affect their whole life trajectory,” says Jennifer Lowry, M.D., chairperson of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health, as well as director of clinical pharmacology, toxicology, and therapeutic innovations at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. “There is so much development happening in their first years of life.”
Especially when you consider the levels of toxic heavy metals in vaccines as well as the levels of fetal DNA in foods and vaccines, this is a recipe for disaster for our young children and their development.
Though the risks of heavy metals from any one source may be low, when people are exposed to even small amounts from multiple sources, over time the danger multiplies.
And such exposure is common. Previous tests from CR and others have found elevated levels of heavy metals not just in juices but also in infant and toddler foods, rice and rice products, protein powder, some types of fish, and sweet potatoes. The toxins may also be in the environment, including the water, the air, and the soil.
Heavy metals can also harm adults, leading to brain disorders like dementia
CR said: “Five of the juices we tested pose a risk to adults at 4 or more ounces per day, and five others pose a risk at 8 or more ounces,” Dickerson says.
Heavy metals may be less risky to adults, but exposure can still lead to health problems. Over many years, even modest amounts of heavy metals may raise the risk of bladder, lung, and skin cancer; cognitive and reproductive problems; and type 2 diabetes, dementia and alzheimer’s among other conditions.
And arsenic, cadmium, and lead each pose their own set of potential harms. Lead, for example, is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and fertility problems. Arsenic is linked to cardiovascular disease. And long-term cadmium exposure increases the risk of bone damage and kidney disease, among other issues.
Still, Dickerson says it’s never too late to change dietary habits even if you, or your children, have been drinking juices higher in heavy metals. “The risk comes from chronic exposure,” he says. “Minimizing consumption of juices and other foods that have heavy metals can reduce the chance of negative outcomes in the future.”
The harmful effects of heavy metals are well-documented. Depending on how long children are exposed to these toxins and how much they are exposed to, they may be at risk for lowered IQ, behavioral problems (such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), type 2 diabetes, cancer and autism.
What CR’s Tests Found
In 2011, CR found elevated levels of inorganic arsenic and lead in apple and grape juices. Their most recent tests were conducted to see whether products have improved since then, to examine other types of juice, and to test for additional heavy metals.
For CR’s current project, we looked at 45 juices in four flavors: apple (22), fruit juice blends (13), grape (7), and pear (3). Most were from concentrate, meaning that all water was removed from the pressed fruit for transport, then added back in at the factory.
Twenty-four national, store, and private-label brands were represented:
365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods), Apple & Eve, Big Win (Rite Aid), Capri Sun, Clover Valley (Dollar General), Great Value (Walmart), Gerber, Good2Grow, Gold Emblem (CVS), Goya, Honest Kids, Juicy Juice, Looza, Market Pantry (Target), Minute Maid, Mott’s, Nature’s Own, Ocean Spray, Old Orchard, R.W. Knudsen, Simply Balanced (Target), Trader Joe’s, Tree Top, and Welch’s.
Among the findings:
• Every product had measurable levels of at least one of these heavy metals: cadmium, inorganic arsenic, lead, or mercury.
• Twenty-one (47 percent) of the 45 juices had concerning levels of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, and/or lead. (None contained concerning levels of mercury.)
• Seven of those 21 juices could harm children who drink 4 ounces (½ cup) or more a day; nine of them pose risks to kids at 8 ounces (1 cup) or more a day.
• Five of the products with elevated levels are juice boxes or pouches ranging from 4 to 6.75 ounces. These pose a risk to a child who drinks more than one box or pouch per day.
• Ten of the juices pose a risk to adults: five of them at 4 ounces or more a day, and five at 8 ounces or more a day.
• Grape juice and juice blends had the highest average heavy metal levels.
• Juice brands marketed for children did not fare better or worse than other juices.
• Organic juices did not have lower levels of heavy metals than conventional ones.
In many of the juices tested, the levels of the heavy metals combined were more concerning than the level of any one specific heavy metal. “Each of these metals has shown similar adverse effects on children’s developing brains and nervous systems, and there are potential additive effects,” says CR chemist Akinleye.
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What Parents Can Do
The best way to reduce your child’s exposure to heavy metals in fruit juice is to limit how much fruit juice they drink. “But many parents still give their children juice on a daily basis,” says CR’s Akinleye.
Soda or other sugar-sweetened drinks, of course, are not good substitutes. Better choices: for infants, breast milk or organic juice and organic fruit and veg.
Filtered waters can taste better with organic sliced cucumber and lemon and other fruits.
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