Sunday, September 21, 2008

Melamine poisoning: What Parents should know

I am sure a lot of parents are anxious about the issue of Melamine poisoning and want to know how to find out if their children are suffering from Melamine poisoning. So this is just a short post to let you all know a little more about what is going on and what to do.

What is Melamine and how did it get into our food products?

Melamine is a chemical that they use to make plastics. I remember that we used to have unbreakable plates and bowls that were made with Melamine and they are still being used in a lot of places today. Melamine as a plastic is very safe, but it becomes a problem when it is eaten.

Because Melamine is high in nitrogen, unscrupulous people have added it to milk which have been diluted with water in order to fool the detection devices into thinking that it is normal milk. This is because the devices do not actually detect protein itself, but the nitrogen content in the protein. So when the milk farmers sell their milk to the middlemen, these middlemen dilute the milk with water and add Melamine so that they can sell more volume of milk to the big producers like Sanlu. These producers then sell their milk products to make things like infant formula, chocolates, ice cream etc.

In Singapore, the AVA has positively detected Melamine in 3 products so far. These are:

White Rabbit Creamy Candies

Dutch Lady Strawberry Flavoured Milk

Yili Fruit Bar

Photos from AVA

I think we might be seeing more product warnings as the AVA conducts their check. As a precaution, they have also started to recall food products which use China sourced milk as one of their ingredients. These can be anything from chocolates, candies, yoghurt etc. It would be wise to avoid these products until the dust settles.

How to know if my child is affected by Melamine Poisoning?

Melamine affects mainly the kidneys because it is mainly excreted by the kidneys. So when high levels of Melamine are eaten, they start to precipitate in the kidneys causing kidney stones. The usual symptoms of kidney stones are pain in the back and sometimes blood in the urine.

Sometimes, melamine can also cause Acute Renal Failure (ARF) which is probably the cause of death in those infants in China. ARF is usually diagnosed with a blood test which is done because the patient is very sick and is admitted to hospital. There are really no concrete signs but you might notice that the child is very sick and vomiting constantly and the urine output might be very much reduced. At any rate, most parents can tell when there is something very wrong with their child and should just bring them to see the doctor.

Do note that you do have to take a moderate amount of Melamine it starts to become a problem. So in China, it was the infants who have been fed daily with tainted infant formula over several months who are affected. If you just drank a bottle of Dutch Lady Strawberry milk or had one Yili fruit bar, it should not cause any problems so there is no point in worrying about it too much. In doubt, please check with your doctor.


It would be wise to avoid any product that contain milk that has been sourced from China at the moment. However, you should not be too concerned if you or your child has taken only a small amount of any of the 3 products listed. If on the other hand, your child has been taking, say, the Dutch Lady Strawberry milk in large amounts over several months, then it may be prudent to bring him to the doctor who might do an Xray and blood test for the child.


News about Melamine scandal click here
Read about the banned products in the AVA website


Anonymous said...

Dr. Tay,

I first came across your family clinic site as I randomly stumbed upon your ieat food site which I frequent until today. As a medical student myself, and yes, being
from neighbouring Malaysia, I highly identify with your love for food. More importantly, I am writing this comment as I think it has been very thoughtful of you to have discussed these current health issues on your blog i.e the chickenpox, the melamine milk problem, etc which I'm sure many parents are concerned about. Kudos to you. Your humilty and care for your patients, has in a certain, and good way, swayed my thoughts to highly consider GP as my specialty in the near future.

Keep up the great work,
Keen reader.

Dr Leslie said...

Thanks very much for your kind words! All the best with your studies.

Sahana Singh said...

Very informative. I was googling to find out if the melamine in milk is the same melamine in crockery which you have confirmed.

Anonymous said...

I am an avid reader of ur food blog. I tend to concur with anonymous that it was rather thoughtful of you to post the info regarding the ongoing melamine incident on ur medical blog. i have found the info to be beneficial and helpful. i m sure many of your patients and readers of both your two blogs wld concur too. keep up the good work and God bless u!