Munching on melamine may harm kidney health

Eating hot food off melamine plates appears to result in significant melamine leaching into the digestive system, suggest findings from a small study.

As reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, Ming-Tsang Wu (Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital, Taiwan) and colleagues compared urinary excretion of melamine after consumption of hot noodle soup in melamine or ceramic bowls over a 12-hour period.

The total melamine excretion over 12 hours in the melamine group was 8.35 µg versus 1.31 µg in the ceramic group, a statistically significant difference.

Although only carried out in a small number of people, the findings of this study are concerning, as continuous low-dose melamine exposure can cause urolithiasis in children and adults, note the authors. For example, the 2008 melamine-tainted baby formula incident caused six deaths and around 50,000 hospitalizations.

Taiwan has a particularly high incidence of kidney stones and the possibility that this may be linked to high melamine exposure prompted Wu et al to carry out this research.

In total, 12 men and women aged 20-27 years took part in the study, which was carried out in a crossover fashion such that six participants initially ate from either melamine bowls or ceramic bowls and then swapped over after a 3-week washout period.

The researchers collected a mean of 4.3 urine samples over the 12 hours after soup consumption from melamine and from ceramic bowls.

"Melamine tableware may release large amounts of melamine when used to serve high-temperature foods," say Wu and co-authors.

However, they note that "the amount of melamine released into food and beverages from melamine tableware varies by brand, so the results of this study of one brand may not be generalized to other brands."

They conclude that although it is not yet clear what levels of urinary melamine are of clinical concern, "the consequences of long-term melamine exposure still should be of concern."

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