Melamine and Kidney Failure

Kidney showing marked pallor of the cortexSciencebase readers following the melamine story and concerned about melamine contaminated foods, will hopefully be interested in the latest expert opinion on the scandal.

Roberta Weiss, a nephrologist (kidney doctor) emailed to provide Sciencebase readers with some more background on melamine contamination and toxicity. Weiss suggests that, “Probably acute renal failure resulting from cyanuric acid crystal formation in the kidneys of babies that ingested the melamine contaminated formula was responsible for the infant deaths, not kidney stone formation.”

Weiss is a kidney doctor for adults, but emphasises that she has never seen a case of melamine related kidney or bladder stones. However, there have been animal studies carried out since the 1980s that do demonstrate that the ingestion of melamine by mice can cause bladder stones, known technically as urolitiasis. These are apparently associated with ulcerations in the bladder. Weiss adds that the animal food tainted with melamine that killed so many pets in the US contained products in the feed from China.

As I’ve mentioned here before, melamine is an organic compound used in the manufacture of plastics and fertilizers. It releases cyanide when burned and has been associated with cyanide poisoning in industrial accidents. Melamine monomer, as opposed to the plastic used to make kitchen utensils and table coverings, itself also has irritant properties. It has been added to various food products to illicitly and fraudulently boost the measured protein content without the expense of actually improving the food’s nutritional value.

According to The Register, Chinese company, Xuzhou Anying, was advertising “dust of melamine” as something it called “ESB protein powder” on the global market trading website, Alibaba. “The latest product, ESB protein powder, which is researched and developed by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd… Contains protein 160 – 300 percent, which solves the problem for shortage of protein resource,” it boasted. A horrifying thought, makes you wonder what is actually in those nasty protein powder drinks bodybuilders use.

“Melamine ingestion results in the production of cyanuric acid in the kidneys,” adds Weiss, “which results in intratubular crystal formation and acute renal failure.” This, she explains occurred in cats who were fed melamine in combination with cyanuric acid experimentally after the pet food issues to demonstrate what may have been happening during that incident.

According to Economics And Finance (Cai Jing) magazine, as reported in the Epoch Times, it is common practice to add melamine to livestock feed along with sodium nitrite, urea, ammonia, silica, potassium nitrate, sodium nitrite, glacial acetic acid, activated carbon materials, urea, ammonia, potassium nitrate, to improve its nutritional profile and other properties of the feed. The use of melamine in this context contravenes international regulations where they exist.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) points out that, “Regulation regarding its use in animal feed do not always exist as it is only recent events which indicated the need to regulate for this substance. However, some countries have established regulations and do not permit the use of melamine in animal feed.” Indeed, the FAO specifically states: “Melamine is not permitted in food or feed stuffs.”

Nevertheless, the FAO says, melamine is often used in agricultural fertilisers. But, has also warned that the commonly used pesticide cyromazine can break down to form melamine (PDF document). This might also explain why melamine has been found in lettuce, water cress, tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes and other agricultural products in China. Contamination levels are very low at 17 milligrams of melamine per kilogram of mushrooms, for instance. They are notably low compared to the levels of melamine found in contaminated infant formula milk, which were as high as 2560 milligrams per kilogram of ready-to-eat product. The levels of cyanuric acid in these products is unknown.

Sciencebase regular “Offy” pointed me to the North Korean publication The Daily NK, which asks whether there were melamine deaths in 2005. “According to merchants trading between China and North Korea, the Chinese Melamine-tainted milk affair started in Pyongyang in the summer of 2005. At the time, infants who ate imported Chinese powdered milk fell unconscious and, in more serious cases, died.” At the time, the North Korean authorities tested imported Chinese milk and banned it on the basis of their findings.

Because of the pet food problem, pet owners like Offy, have been following this stayed on this for well over a year. “Politics has trumped health in favour of industry for a very long time in the US…it’s not just a problem in China,” she says. Cai Jing blames a lack of supervision for the melamine crisis and suggests an approach that will allow China’s fledgling market economy to continue to grow but at the same time minimising the chances of a similar scandal occurring again. It says that the melamine milk crisis has taught China that government oversight to spot corruption is essential, but it also suggests that the government not be allowed to simply meddle with the market. This would, Cai Jing says, be the only way to ensure a safe food industry.

  • Why is melamine in baby formula, your food — and your pets’ meals?
  • Major Chinese supermarket chain in Canada pulls yogurt drinks from shelves
  • T&T; Supermarkets pulls yogurt drinks from shelves
  • China: 12 more arrests in tainted milk case

6 thoughts on “Melamine and Kidney Failure”

  1. I’d talk to your vet. As I understand it, there is the possible for kidney damage but it all depends on dose, your veterinarian would be able to best advise you if there is a problem with your pet.

  2. Although the renal failure in infants could have been due to the combined crystal formation of cyanuric acid and melamine, The cyanuric acid isn’t made kidneys.

    In 2007 it was a contaminant in the pet food, along with melamine.

    see Dobson’s article:

    2 other labs also showed crystals form in animals given both melamine and cyanuric acid.

    Puschner et al (cats):

    Reimschuessel et al (fish and pigs):

    Older studies using only melamine did not find those crystals, but a long term study DID find kidney stones

    Urinary bladder carcinogenesis induced by melamine in F344 male rats: correlation between carcinogenicity and urolith formation.

    Ogasawara et al 1995 PMID: 7586198

    Stones (obstruction) could cause acute renal failure in the babies if it is not diagnosed rapidly.

    It is possible BOTH of these scenarios are going on in the present adulteration event in China

  3. A post on a Chinese blog linking back to Sciencebase had a comment mentioning that the bacterium for Kawasaki syndrome had been found in contaminated powdered milk. This is very odd given that no one knows the causative agent of that syndrome although it is thought to be a superantigen rather than bacteria or virus. Anyone else seen mention of Kawasaki in the context of melamine contamination? And, purleez, no motorbike jokes…

  4. The passage concerning the FAO and agricultural fertlisers is very important. Thank you for informing!

  5. Beijing is afraid of the total bankruptcy of the national milk industry so they have to save at least one. And they also don’t like to see large scale civil lawsuits towards the milk industry but hope to pay and pacify the victims governmentally. These methods are tyrannical indeed but in China at least things must be so.

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