How Arsenic May be Lurking in Your (and your child’s) Healthy Diet – And What to do About it.
Would you ever imagine that you are unknowingly consuming incremental amounts of Arsenic a day? Personally, when I think of Arsenic I think of the fiction (and non-fiction) stories of how rat poison has been deviously slipped into an unsuspecting victim’s beverage or food resulting then in a mysterious death. It is usually cast as a shadowy scene of the culprit lurking in the background as the victim unknowingly consumes a substance that will be their final demise.
Jump to reality: The issue of Arsenic is front and center in the media. The curtain is being pulled back on just HOW much is in our food, beverage and water supply. Despite industry’s attempts to say, “The levels are safe, there is nothing to worry about”, the truth still exists: The toxic form of Arsenic is in our food supply and in surprisingly large amounts that exceed federal regulations. Unlike the traditionally known Arsenic poisonings known for immediate death, that is not the issue here. The issue here is bio-accumulation of incremental doses over time that can lend to a great potential for triggering disease and disorders.
Despite the fact that it is one of the most toxic substances, the FDA is saying that there is not adequate scientific basis to recommend changes for consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products. Those very words have become the sting phrase that now launches informed, concerned citizens to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves. It is the concerned citizens that are left to maneuver the labyrinth of science, facts and fiction, to find a way to move forward in hopes and intention of protecting themselves, their families and their children.
Troubling here is the issue of “WHAT” is so highly contaminated and “WHO” is at great risk. That “WHAT” is rice and it’s many forms of packaged products (Basmati rice, white rice, brown rice, rice cereals like puffed, non-puffed, hot cereal, and infant cereals, rice cakes, and rice milk). Also, fruit juices (such as grape and apple) have been analyzed to have high levels of inorganic Arsenic as well. The “WHO” that are at great risk are pregnant women, their fetus, infants and children. A developing fetus and child is undergoing such rapid, vulnerable cell development which Arsenic can impair.
What do children eat? Well, once they reach a certain age, they typically consume rice products in many forms from cereals, crackers to rice milk along with a fruit juice such as apple or grape. Travel along any grocery store isle and if your are shopping for a baby, toddler or young child these 2 staples of rice based products and fruit juices typically make their way into the grocery cart and then into the mouths of babes who’s bodies are undergoing a delicate growth process.
Recent reports have come out that clearly and distinctly illustrate this worrisome issue. Consumers Reports recently completed detailed analyses of just HOW much inorganic Arsenic is in rice products and grape and apple juices. The issue is now inarguable. Check out the analysis done by Consumer Reports.
Surprisingly, despite the fact that Arsenic consistently ranks at the top of federal government lists of environmental chemicals of concern to human health, no standards exist for Arsenic levels in food. Then we have to also consider the issue of bio-accumulation. Who is to say that ANY level is safe? It is not just a one-dose issue. These rice based foods and fruit juices are consumed repeatedly, daily - mostly by children who are underlying delicate, crucial cellular development.
This is a complicated topic. So here are some simple facts and pointers to help demystify the issue of Arsenic and how you can take control and action in your life.
So, What IS Arsenic?
Arsenic is a heavy metal. It is complex in structure and form so to make it easier to understand look at it this way. There are 2 Main forms of Arsenic.
- Inorganic Arsenic. This is the toxic form.
- Organic Arsenic. The less toxic form. This does not mean that organic Arsenic is totally safe. Organic Arsenic can be transformed to Inorganic Arsenic after contact with micro-organisms under various conditions.
Where is Arsenic found?
Until recently common sources of Arsenic were thought to just be found in:
- Seafoods (contains arsenobetaine anorganic Arsenic)
- Insecticides, rodenticides and fungicides
- Industrial ore smelting/refining/processing plants, galvanizing, etching and plating processes.
- Commercial Arsenic products
- Wood preservatives
- Nearly 70% of commercial chickens conventionally raised for meat in the U.S. (they are fed Roxarsone, a benzene Arsenic compound)
Recently high levels of Arsenic have also been found in:
- Rice and packaged/processed rice products such as Basmati rice, white rice, brown rice, rice cereals like puffed, non-puffed, hot cereal, and infant cereals, rice cakes, and rice milk
- Fruit juices such as apple and grape
How Does Arsenic Impact Health?
The impacts on the body are complex and exceed these few examples but here are a few main ways.
- It accumulates in the mitochondria (where your energy is generated in your cells) and impairs the production of ATP (energy production).
- It puts high demand on a pathway in your liver called methylation and consumes the resources needed for that pathway to work effectively.
- Another major way it impacts health is it drains your supply of glutathione which is your master antioxidant and essential for detoxing toxins in your body.
How is Arsenic Processed in the Body?
Arsenic is processed and metabolized via a process called Methylation in the liver. Methylation is one of the most important determinants in many chronic degenerative diseases. DNA methylation is an important regulator of gene transcription. Random DNA methylation is implicated in a range of degenerative diseases associated with aging including cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and neurological diseases.
Arsenic also attaches to what are called sulfhydryl groups so it puts a lot of demand on the glutathione levels in your body. Urinary excretion is the primary pathway of elimination of Arsenic and almost all ingested Arsenic is excreted through the urine.
If I Think I Have Had High Exposure to Arsenic How Can I Test For It?
- Get Expert Support
- In the case of any toxin, especially heavy metals, it is important to work with an expert in that area of expertise. Great resources for practitioners trained to deal with this particular issue can be found through resources such as the American College for the Advancement of Medicine (ACAM) and American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM). Be careful whom you work with and ensure they are qualified experts in dealing with heavy metals.
- Typically Arsenic is tested through urine, hair and Red Blood Cell Analysis. However, hair samples are the most accurate at identifying body stores and hidden levels according to Mark Schauss, MBA, DB, an internationally acclaimed lecturer on the effects of environmental toxicity on human health and President of Lab Interpretation LLC based in Reno, Nevada.
How do I Detox From Arsenic if I Have High Levels in my Testing?
Be careful what avenues you choose to aggressively go after this. Be informed by a trained practitioner. KNOW THE FACTS. Ask to see the science and success statistics behind what they are recommending. From Chlorella to Clay there are a lot of alternative approaches. But what really works? What is really safe? Is it part of a larger approach?
In a clinical setting if someone tests high for Arsenic, the protocol is typically to use a chelating agent such as DMPS or DMSA. However, a Medical Doctor trained in those modalities must oversee those approaches. As for detoxing an infant or child those matters must be guided by a trained medical practitioner. Homeopathy can also be helpful with detoxing from Arsenic and other heavy metals, but it again it must be carefully overseen by someone who is an EXPERT for that very thing.
How Can I Support my Natural Detoxing Abilities for Arsenic?
You can gently support your body’s ability to detoxify by ensuring that you are consuming nutrients that help fortify methylation and glutathione pathways. Here are some examples:
- Sulfur containing foods: Clean organic animal protein, eggs, beans, garlic, onions, broccoli, cabbage, etc.
- Folate containing foods: Dark Leafy Greens such as spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard. If you or your child don't like to eat greens, make them into a tasty green smoothie. All it takes is 12 oz water, hand full of spinach, handful of kale, 1 pear or apple and 1/4 - 1/2 avocado.
- High fiber foods such as legumes, raw nuts, seeds, berries, apples. Fiber helps bind to excess toxins in the colon and also helps feed beneficial bacteria in your colon that process toxins.
- Pure spring water between meals with a squeeze of lemon. This gently supports the liver and also supports elimination.
If you want to implement specific supplements to support this process it is best to work with a trained practitioner who can guide you with this process. As an example some supportive nutrients are magnesium, B-vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenomethionine and lipoic acid.
How Can I Decrease My Exposure to Arsenic
- Test your water. Contact your local health department for a test kit. Then contact this Clean Water Expert, James P. McMahon, an ecologist, who specializes in clean water. He can help you interpret your report and make you a customized filter if that is necessary.
- Try other types of fruit juices other than apple and grape. Keep fruit juices to a minimum. They are straight glucose and can lend to obesity and tooth decay.
- Try other gluten-free grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, and buckwheat. They are high in nutrients and quinoa is even a complete protein.
- If you must have rice, use a ratio of 6 cups water to 1-cup rice for cooking and draining the excess water afterward. This removes about 30 percent of the rice's inorganic Arsenic content.
- Clean vegetables thoroughly, especially the skins of root vegetables.
If you have an infant and would like to play with some rice alternatives here are a few recipes to try:
Rice Alternative Foods for Babies
Whole Grain Quinoa Baby Cereal
- 1 cup whole quinoa (not ground into a powder)
- 2 cups filtered water
- In a large pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil
- Add 1 cup of quinoa
- Cover the pot, reduce heat and simmer approximately 15 minutes or until liquid has been absorbed. Let stand for five minutes and then "fluff" a bit.
- You may add spices such as cinnamon, ginger and vanilla, and also fruits, veggies and/or other foods that are age appropriate for your baby.
Rice-Free Pear/Avo Puree
- 2 ripe organic pears, peeled, cored and diced
- 1 ripe, Fresh Avocado
- Mash the pear and then mix in the avocado – puree if needed.
- Add a little cardamon or cinnamon for a mild taste enhancer.
Note: adjust the recipe amount based on your baby’s age and appetite.
I hope this has helped to lend some clarity for you about this issue of Arsenic. The best thing you can do for you and your family is to be informed and make informed choices. As always, if you have further questions you can reach me through my website at http://getnourished.net.
My you be well and thrive,
- Science News, April 6, 2002; p 214
- Das PM, Singal R. J Clin Oncol 2004: 2222: 4632 2222
- McKay JA et al. Biochem Soc Trans 2004; 3232:1006
- Mark Schauss, MS, DB, Lab Interpretation, LLC