Why Babies Can't Eat Honey

This is C. botulinum.

It's a bacterium that can produce one of the world's

most lethal substances.

It lives in lots of places including soil,

pollen, dust, and also in honey.

So why haven't you died from eating this sweet treat?

Because you're not a baby.

As C. botulinum grows, it produces botulinum toxin.

It's the same stuff used in Botox,

but Botox has an extremely

low dose compared to infected food.

In large amounts,

the toxin would attack your nervous system,

causing the illness known as botulism,

which can lead to paralysis and even death.

And since C. botulinum is so common in our environment,

researchers believe that bees pick it up on their way

to the hive where they produce honey.

One study found C. botulinum bacteria

in about 8% of honey samples.

But before you purge your pantry, consider this.

Normally when we encounter C. Botulinum, like in honey,

it's dormant.

In this sleepy state, it can't produce the toxin.

Even if you ate it.

Unless, of course, you're less than 1 year old.

When C. botulinum enters a baby's large intestine,

it comes alive because unlike children and adults,

babies less than 1 year old haven't been eating

real solid foods.

They've been drinking milk.

But when babies are around 4 to 6 months old,

they stop drinking human milk, and they start eating

other foods that they've never had before.

As a result, their gut microbes change very abruptly,

and it's during this transition period in the baby's gut

that the lethal C. botulinum bacteria are free to grow

and produce the toxin.

As the toxin enters the baby's bloodstream,

it blocks the ability of motor nerves to release

acetylcholine, a chemical messenger

that sends nerve signals to muscles.

As a result, the baby starts to lose control of muscles

and appears tired and floppy.

And as more toxin enters the bloodstream, the muscles

that control swallowing and breathing stop working.

Fortunately, infant botulism is not very common,

and infant botulism due to honey is even rarer.

Fewer than 100 cases occur in the US each year,

and while it's difficult to pinpoint the source

of the bacterium in many cases,

experts think that honey accounts for 15%.

So it's important that if your infant shows signs

of weakness, you take them to be evaluated

by medical professionals immediately.

In some cases, doctors can administer

an effective antitoxin,

but it can take babies weeks or a month to recover.

The FDA recommends waiting until your baby's first birthday

to feed them honey or any products

that are filled with or dipped in honey.