Heavy Metals - Arsenic

Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment in both highly toxic and non-toxic forms. Arsenic is a trace mineral in the body. The exact benefits have not been established, but it appears that it may be beneficial in metabolizing methionine. Arsenic is typically considered an environmental pollutant and a heavy metal. Exposure to arsenic is a public health concern due to its adverse neurological and cardiovascular effects, as well as its carcinogenic potential. Historically, arsenic has been used as a poison.

Where Do They Come From?

Sources of arsenic include:

 

Food

  • Arsenic can be found in seafood but is generally in the organic arsenical form which is rapidly metabolized and excreted in the urine.

  • Rice has been associated with high arsenic levels.

  • Other natural food sources which contain arsenic include breads, cereals, fish, meats, mushrooms and starchy vegetables.

  • Water can become contaminated with arsenic.

 

Industry

  • Arsenic is found in high levels in mining, glass and metal manufacturing and electronics production.

  • Other industry exposures include automobile batteries, asphalt and wood preservatives.

  • Cigarette smoke contains arsenic.

 

Environment

  • Arsenic is naturally occurring and may contaminate drinking water when water sources are located close to large geologic deposits of arsenic.

  • Polluted air main contain arsenic.

  • Children may be exposed to arsenic from playing on playground equipment treated with arsenic containing wood preservatives. For this reason, the EPA no longer allows the use of arsenic in wood preservation for residential uses.

 

Pharmaceuticals

  • Historically, arsenic was used in dilute concentrations to treat syphilis and other infections. Arsenic is still found in melarsoprol which is used to treat African sleeping sickness.

  • Recently arsenic trioxide was approved as a chemotherapeutic agent for leukemia.

 

Agriculture

  • Arsenic is commonly found in insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and wood preservatives.

 

Supplements

  • Some contaminated Ayurvedic medications and herbal products may contain arsenic.

How They Affect You

Arsenic enters the body through the mouth, lungs and skin.  Arsenic is toxic to many body organs, the kidneys and liver being the most sensitive.

 

Symptoms: High levels of arsenic can cause symptoms such as skin rashes, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and even death.  Lower levels of arsenic over extended periods of time can cause liver and kidney damage and blood cell deficiencies, including anemia and leukopenia.  

 

Metabolic Disorders: Arsenic exposure increases the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, skin disorders and gastrointestinal diseases.  

 

Cancer: The research shows that arsenic is associated with multiple cancers, including bladder, renal and liver cancer.  Arsenic is associated with a 3.5 fold increase for lung cancer and a risk factor for other cancers, including liver, renal and bladder.

How To Protect Yourself

The following are ways to limit your exposure to arsenic:

  • Avoid well water.  Test your water for arsenic and invest in a filter.

  • Avoid arsenic contaminated foods including seafood, rice, mushrooms and poultry.

  • If living in a polluted city, be sure to use an air filter in your home.

  • If working in a factory or plan, be mindful of possible sources of lead and limit exposure.

  • Avoid smoking. 

3 Essentials

  1. Avoid arsenic contaminated foods

  2. Avoid smoking

  3. Avoid exposure to insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and wood preservatives

Additional Key Recommendations

  1. Avoid well water.  Test your water for arsenic and invest in a filter.

  2. Avoid arsenic contaminated foods including seafood, rice, mushrooms and poultry

  3. If living in a polluted city be sure to use an air filter in your home 

  4. If working on a factory or plant be mindful of possible sources of lead and limit exposure

References

  1. HoltcampW 2012. Suspect Sweetener: Arsenic Detected in Organic Brown Rice Syrup. Environ Health Perspect120:a204-a204.

  2. Navas-AcienA, et al. Arsenic exposure and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in US adults. JAMA. 2008

  3. JomovaK, et al. Arsenic: toxicity, oxidative stress and human disease. J Appl Toxicol. 2011 Mar;31(2):95-107.

  4. Heck JE,  et al. Lung cancer in a U.S. population with low to moderate arsenic exposure. Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Nov;117(11):1718-23.

  5. JomovaK, et al. Arsenic: toxicity, oxidative stress and human disease. J Appl Toxicol. 2011 Mar;31(2):95-107.

  6. American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/arsenic

  7. http://www.ndhealthfacts.org/wiki/Arsenic

Work with a naturopathic doctor / naturopath to help you assess for environmental pollutants and to understand how they may be affecting your health. The information on this website is a guide for ways to protect you and your family from environmental pollutants.  It is not meant to replace advice from a healthcare professional.