Food With Arsenic

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This blog helps those with food with excessive amounts of arsenic in it. We will provide information on how to get the most out of your food, from how to store it properly to cooking tips. This blog is meant for a wide range of people, but will especially assist families that want to stay healthy and keep their children’s health as best as possible.

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Food With Arsenic

Whether it’s toxic arsenic-based pesticides used on some foods, or the naturally occurring arsenic in water and soil, this heavy metal has become pervasive in our diets. And a new study from Dartmouth University concludes that foods containing arsenic could be the main way you’re exposed to this harmful metal.

The study compared arsenic levels found in about 850 people’s toenails (over time, arsenic concentrates in the keratin your body uses to create nails) with food questionnaires. Researchers found that diet seems to be an important contributor to total arsenic exposure in U.S. populations, regardless of arsenic concentrations in drinking water. Although the Environmental Protection Agency has set limits for arsenic in municipal water supplies, the metal isn’t regulated in private wells used for drinking and irrigation.

“After we accounted for exposures via water, we still saw high levels of exposure from food,” says lead author Kathryn Cottingham, PhD, professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth.

Although it’s fatal at high doses, the low levels of arsenic in food don’t cause immediate health problems for the average person. With chronic exposure, however, their dangers can be serious. Long-term exposure to the metal is known to cause lung, kidney, skin, and bladder cancers, and it interferes with estrogen and testosterone, as well as with the hormones that regulate your metabolism and immune system.

“My advice,” says Dr. Cottingham, “if there are foods that are high in arsenic, just don’t eat them all the time.” Based on the Dartmouth study results, here are five foods that shouldn’t make regular appearances in your daily diet:

1. Brussels sprouts Despite the fact that these vegetables are among the healthiest you can eat, Dr. Cottingham’s research, along with others studies, note that inorganic arsenic that exists in soil is highly attracted to sulfur compounds in brussels sprouts, along with other cruciferous vegetables, including kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. Arsenic levels in regular sprout eaters were 10.4% higher than in people who never ate them or ate them less than once a month.

2. Dark-meat fish Inorganic forms of arsenic were 7.4% higher in people eating dark-meat fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, bluefish, and swordfish) once a week, compared to people who ate them less than once a month. Organic arsenic exists naturally in seawater, and while organic arsenic is believed to be relatively safe, this research suggests it might not be as harmless as scientists think. Since all seafood tends to be high in arsenic, Dr. Cottingham says, make it an occasional meal.

More from Prevention: 12 Fish To Never, Ever Eat

3. Rice Dr. Cottingham’s study didn’t show a significant association between rice consumption and arsenic levels, but that’s likely due to the fact that her study participants weren’t big rice eaters. Other studies, though, are pretty compelling, she says, showing that people who eat rice closer to the amount the average American does (about half a cup per day) have consistently high arsenic levels.

4. Chicken and other poultry Poultry birds are regularly given feed containing arsenic-based drugs, which leads to an elevated level of arsenic in the meat. The FDA recently revoked approvals for three out of four of these toxic feed additives, but industry experts estimate that it’ll be at least a year before producers run through the remaining supplies of their arsenic-laced feed. Continue to opt for organic poultry, which is raised without the use of arsenic feed additives.

5. Beer and wine In the Dartmouth study, men who had 2.5 beers per day had arsenic levels more than 30% higher than nonconsumers, and women who drank five to six glasses of wine per week had levels 20% higher than nonconsumers. The arsenic may be coming from the water used to brew these beverages, but beer and wine producers also use a filtration material, diatomaceous earth, that’s know to harbor arsenic.

Arsenic in Fruits, Juices, and Vegetables

Eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health, but some types of fruits, juices, and vegetables have more arsenic than others. Vary what you eat, particularly if you are exposed to arsenic through private well water, other foods or other sources.

Plants absorb arsenic from the soil in varying amounts and move it to different parts depending on the type of plant. Arsenic occurs naturally in soil, but arsenic containing chemicals were historically used on orchard fruit trees in the U.S. Although these chemicals are no longer used in this country, arsenic can stay in the soil for long periods of time. Other human activities can also deposit arsenic in soil and certain high risk locations are more likely to have arsenic.

  • Fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, peas, beans, corn, melons and strawberries – absorb very little arsenic in the parts that you eat.
  • Leafy vegetables like lettuce, collard greens, kale, mustard and turnip greens – store more arsenic in the leaves than other types of vegetables do but not enough to be of concern.
  • Root vegetables like beets, turnips, carrots, radishes and potatoes – have arsenic mostly in their skins. Peeling these vegetables will get rid of most of the arsenic, but avoid eating the peel or composting as this would put arsenic back into the soil.
  • Apples, pears and grapes – absorb some arsenic that occurs naturally in soil or came from past use of pesticides.
  • Apple, pear and grape juice – may contain low amounts of arsenic since it is present in the fruit. Juices you mix from concentrate could have higher arsenic if made with arsenic-containing water.
  • Apple seeds contain cyanide – not arsenic – and the hard coating of the seed protects you from the small amount in each seed.

How to Reduce Your Consumption of Arsenic

Arsenic. You’ve heard of it, and probably think of it as a poison.

It is toxic in high concentrations, but let’s clear up what arsenic actually is.

Arsenic is atomic number 33, with the symbol “As” on the periodic table of elements. Arsenic is a heavy metal and can combine with other metals to strengthen them. That’s great for metal alloys, but it can become a deadly poison for the human body. A testament to this is that arsenic is also used in making insecticides and weed killers. Further, arsenic is considered carcinogenic by cancer.org.

There are two types of arsenic: organic, and inorganic. Inorganic arsenic is the type that is more toxic to the body, while organic arsenic is toxic only in larger concentrations. Unfortunately, both types are found in water, food, air, and soil.

What is Arsenic Poisoning?

Arsenic Poisoning
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While trace amounts of arsenic don’t elicit any symptoms, higher levels of exposure from living near industrial areas or drinking contaminated water can lead to arsenic poisoning – otherwise known as “arsenicosis”. Arsenicosis may result in severe health problems if untreated.

Symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dark urine
  • Dehydration
  • Cardiac issues
  • Hemolysis, or the destruction of red blood cells
  • Vertigo
  • Delirium
  • Shock
  • Death

Additionally, longer-term exposure to arsenic is associated with some types of cancer, including bladder, kidney, lung, and skin cancer as evidenced by a study posted in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives.

Sounds bad? It is if we’re not careful.

So what should we watch out for in terms of our diet? Good question.

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1. Rice

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Yep…rice.

A study posted at the University of Michigan showed that there was an association with rice consumption and arsenic excretion in 229 pregnant women. Yikes.

Consumer Reports conducted an analysis on arsenic in foods and found the following on rice:

  • Most of the rice in the United States is grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas – these farms have higher levels of arsenic compared to rice grown elsewhere. This could be because the south-central region was historically treated with arsenical pesticides to combat boll weevils.
  • Brown rice has higher levels of arsenic than white rice.
  • As a result, cultures that tend to have a high rice diet have higher arsenic levels than those who do not eat rice.

Why does rice have arsenic?

The composition of the rice husk may attract arsenic into the grain – hence the reason why brown rice, which retains the husk, has more arsenic than white rice, which has the husk removed. This is further evidenced by a study posted at the University of Dhaka explaining the potential of waste rice husks for arsenic removal.

Rice absorbs more water and is grown in much wetter conditions than most grains. Since water also contains arsenic, grains that take up more water would naturally take up more arsenic.

Now this doesn’t mean you have to remove rice completely from your diet, but it’s important to know that it could be a source of arsenic exposure. As long as you maintain an overall balanced diet, however, it’s hard to eat enough rice to cause problems.

2. Rice-Products

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Unfortunately, because arsenic is present in rice, it also exists in rice-products in general. The FDA released an analysis of around 1,100 rice samples and rice products to figure out the risks of arsenic consumption.

Consumer reports listed cereals as a large cause for concern given the potential exposure in infants and children. They recommend that infants are limited to a single serving of rice cereal per day.

Rice is present in many foods in some shape or form including baked goods, beverages, cereals, baby foods, nutrition bars, desserts, and pastas.

It may seem like a daunting list, but the FDA found that arsenic levels are overall very low, and do not result in health issues.

Limiting Arsenic by Varying Your Diet

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Alright, so arsenic is in some foods in low concentrations, but how can we avoid over consumption?

Simple, the FDA says:

“Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains — not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food”.

Consider Testing Your Drinking Water

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Fear not – you can find a handy dandy arsenic in groundwater map from the U.S. Geological Survey website’s groundwater section. And if that isn’t good enough, you can get your own water tested for $16 to $18 dollars or so. Just contact your local health department.

Have arsenic in your water?

Time to install a reverse osmosis system to remove inorganic crud like arsenic and other metals. But good news is, you’re probably already in the clear – most water companies do a good job of filtration on their own.

Problems may arise if you own your own drinking water well, since this water is directly from the earth, so if that’s you it could be worth getting checked.

Conclusion

This isn’t a scare post – the arsenic in food is generally low concentration. But in the unlikely event that you live near an industrial area – be in the know. The increased exposure of arsenic in the air, combined with a diet high in the food products listed above may put you at risk.

Arsenic and Food Safety

The following article, being the fourth in this series on “Metallic Contaminants in Food”, will focus on arsenic – its various forms, how we are exposed and what can be done to minimise our exposure to arsenic.

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic is an element that is commonly found in nature. Arsenic exists in organic, inorganic arsenic (III) and arsenic (V) forms. In nature, arsenic is often present in igneous and sedimentary rock as inorganic arsenic compounds. These arsenic compounds may end up in soil, air, water or become airborne. The inorganic forms are usually considered more toxic to human, whereas the organic forms are of much less concern in toxicity.

Arsenic compounds are used industrially in the production of transistors, lasers, semiconductors, glass and pigments. A large majority of arsenic compounds related to human activities is in the form of inorganic arsenic trioxide. This particular compound is known as pishuang in Chinese, which is a poison often mentioned in old Chinese literature. The other forms of arsenic compounds are mainly used for the production of special alloys.

How Does Arsenic End Up in Food? How are People Exposed?

Generally, people are exposed to arsenic through eating. In areas where water is naturally high in arsenic, drinking water is also a significant contributor to the dietary intake. However, this is not of local concern as the maximum level of arsenic in potable water in Hong Kong is less than 0.001 mg/l between October 2006 and September 2007. This is well below the 2004 World Health Organization’s provisional guideline value of 0.01 mg/l arsenic in drinking water. Furthermore, absorption of arsenic through air and skin only plays a minor role in the general population.

As arsenic compounds are mostly soluble in water, arsenic is more likely to be present in seafood, especially shellfish. According to literature, the level of arsenic can range from 1 to 10 mg/kg in fishes and up to 100 mg/kg in bottom feeders and shellfish. The use of arsenic-containing agricultural chemicals can lead to accumulation of arsenic in soil and plants, but this only contributes to trace amount of arsenic in food. On the other hand, arsenic present in fish is more often in the less toxic organic form. According to the CFS Risk Assessment Study on the Dietary Exposure to Heavy Metals in Secondary School Students in 2002, the dietary exposure of inorganic arsenic is 2.52 and 6.77 μg/kg body weight/week for average eaters and high consumers respectively. These are lower than the safety level of 15μg/kg body weight/week, even though a conservative assumption that 10% of total arsenic detected is in inorganic form in all food is made. Our own data suggests that the proportion of total arsenic in seafood that is inorganic ranged from 0.2% to 6.0% locally. This level of dietary arsenic exposure is unlikely to cause health problems.

Illustration: Shellfish is a major source of dietary arsenic exposure in Hong Kong

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What are the Effects of Arsenic on Health?

Even though pishuang may sound frightening to many Chinese, its toxicity is determined by the dose ingested. Acute poisoning due to arsenic present in food is rare. Symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning include severe vomiting and diarrhoea, accompanied by muscular cramps, facial oedema and cardiac dysfunction. It had been reported that an oral dose of 2 to 21g of arsenic was fatal, while others reported non-fatal outcome when 1 to 16g arsenic was ingested. Chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic via drinking water may cause peripheral vascular disease. The relationship of arsenic exposure and other diseases are less clear, but there is evidence for cardiovascular diseases and hypertension.

The International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) considered that arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer of the urinary bladder, lung and skin. IARC also consider arsenic and arsenic compounds as a whole are carcinogenic to humans, as occupational exposure to inorganic arsenic, mainly by inhalation, in mining and copper smelting increases the incidents of lung, gastrointestinal and renal cancer.

Advice to Consumers

  1. Obtain food supplies from reliable sources.
  2. Maintain a balanced diet and to avoid overindulgence of shellfish.

Advice to the Trade

Obtain food supplies from reliable sources and not to obtain shellfish and other seafood from contaminated areas.

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