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September 23, 2014

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Registered
Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of our Editorial

Arsenic occurs naturally in soil and water but you’ve
probably heard more mention of arsenic as a man-made
killer – arsenic is used in rat poison, due to its seriously
powerful effects. A dose of arsenic can kill a person in
minutes, but that’s not the only thing you have to worry
about. Did you know that low levels of arsenic in your diet
can cause serious health problems over time?

Where Does Arsenic Come From?

Arsenic occurs naturally in some soils, and it can also
persist in soil for years after it was applied as a fertilizer for
crops. For example, rice grown in the south of the US
comes from paddies that were previously cotton fields
where farmers routinely applied arsenic-based pesticides.
All plants can pick up arsenic when they grow in soil
containing the metal. Drinking water is also a source of
arsenic as the metal dissolves easily in water.

What are the Symptoms of Acute Arsenic Poisoning?

If high levels of arsenic are taken orally, the effect can be
swiftly fatal. If lower levels of arsenic are consumed, you
can experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion and
foggy memory, fatigue, abnormal heart rhythm, and a pins-
and-needles sensation in the hands and feet.

The pigmentation in your fingernails may change and you
can start having convulsions.

Further symptoms of serious arsenic poisoning include a
metallic taste in the mouth, problems swallowing, blood in
the urine, breath that smells of garlic, muscle cramps,
stomach cramps,
excessive sweating, and loss of hair.

Even a low dose of arsenic can decrease production of red
and white blood cells, and may damage blood vessels.

What are the Consequences of Too Much Arsenic in the

While the effects of a high dose of arsenic can be severe, it
is also possible to suffer health effects from consuming low
levels of arsenic over a long period of time, for example
from your diet. Arsenic is associated with higher rates of
lung, skin, and bladder cancer. Low to moderate levels of
arsenic can cause cardiovascular disease and lung
problems, brain developmental problems and birth

Long-term exposure to low levels of arsenic usually
produces few symptoms, although it may be displayed in
skin discoloration like freckles or moles on the hands and
feet, or hard patches on the palms and the soles of the feet.

Arsenic in Drinking Water Causes Miscarriage?

A 2001 study from the National Institute of Preventive and
Social Medicine, Dhaka, Bangladesh looked at a group of
women in Bangladesh who were exposed to arsenic
through drinking water for 5 to 10 years.

Incidence of spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, and preterm
birth was significantly higher in those women exposed to
arsenic than in women who weren’t exposed to the poison.

Exposure to arsenic in the womb is also linked to low birth
weight and an increase in the risk of child mortality,
according to reports such as a 2003 study from the School
of Public Health and Markey Cancer Center, University of
Kentucky – moderate exposure to arsenic from drinking
water during pregnancy was associated with low birth
weight similar to exposure to tobacco smoke.

Cancer, and Cardiovascular Disease Linked to Arsenic
A 2013 study from the Medical School of Athens, Athens,
Greece showed that reports detailing places where there
was a higher risk of bladder cancer were areas with high
arsenic concentrations in drinking water.

A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Public Health demonstrates that low to moderate arsenic
levels are associated with cardiovascular disease.

Is there a Test for Arsenic in Food?

While there is no standard for levels of arsenic in food, the
FDA tests some foods and considers cases where toxic
arsenic is found in food on a case by case basis.
We looked at recent scientific reports to find out the top
seven sources of arsenic in food and supplements, which
may cause harm to your health.


In 2011, researchers at Dartmouth Medical School
discovered that pregnant women who ate rice had higher
levels of arsenic in their bodies than women who did not
consume rice.

The scientists stated that just half a cup of rice a day could
expose you to the same amount of arsenic as drinking a
liter of water with the US government maximum allowable
concentration of arsenic.

The researchers looked at pregnant women in New
Hampshire. Rice can be a real source of arsenic as it is
grown in water, which is a source of arsenic, and also in
areas that were previously sprayed with arsenic pesticide.

Brown rice has higher concentrations of arsenic than white
rice because most is found in the germ, which is removed in
white rice.

Apple Juice

And in another 2011 report (Consumer Reports),
researchers found that arsenic levels were too high in 10
percent of apple and grape juices.

Ten percent of store-bought apple and grape juices had
more arsenic than the Environmental Protection Agency
permits in bottled water. However, the FDA says that the
levels are still well below their “level of concern” which
would prompt further tests.


Bladderwrack, a type of seaweed, can contain high
concentrations of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic
derived from the seawater. A 1998 report from authors PA
Conz, G La Greca, P Benedetti et al says that the use of a
bladderwrack supplement with a high metal content was
responsible for a case of kidney failure.


Another seaweed, kelp, is also a source of high levels of
arsenic and can cause toxicity when taken as a supplement,
according to a 2007 report from the University of California-
Davis and studies by authors Pye, Kelsey, House, et al in
1992, and Walkiw and Douglas in 1975.


Chitosan is a type of fiber made from crustacean shells
which is used as a supplement for weight reduction and
lowering cholesterol. At times, this supplement may contain
arsenic – so says a 2002 case report (Caraccio, TR.

Chronic arsenic (As) toxicity from Chitosan® supplement)
that detailed how a woman taking weight reduction pills for
a year was admitted to the ER suffering fatigue, headaches
and weakness. She had a urine arsenic concentration that
was three times higher than the normal.

Ayurvedic Medicines

One-fifth of US-made and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic
medicines available via the Internet contain detectable
levels of arsenic, lead, and mercury, according to a 2008
study by Boston University School of Medicine and Boston
Medical Center.

Arsenic and other metals may be found in these medicines
due to the practice of rasa shastra, which means the
combination of herbs with gems, minerals and metals.

Green Leafy Vegetables

While all plants absorb arsenic if it is present in the soil or
water, the concentration of arsenic is much higher in the
leaves of plants than in the grains, according to a
researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Green leafy vegetables therefore contain higher levels of
arsenic than other plants, although arsenic intake from this
source is likely to be low as we consume a lower volume of
these plants compared to food like rice, and to drinking


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A single bowl of rice can contain as much
arsenic as the maximum amount of the
metal the government allows in a liter of