The issue of low-level exposure to arsenic has been in the news recently. The discovery that brown rice syrup (even when free of pesticides) had significant levels of arsenic alarmed users of baby formula containing brown rice syrup, and energy bars with the ingredient. While one baby formula company determined to sell safe formula is presently carefully filtering its brown rice syrup, there is still concern about the multiple sources of exposure.
In large doses, arsenic is known for being a deadly substance. However, it is also a naturally occurring substance, and at low levels, has been added to everything from chicken feed to pressure-treated wood. Rice tends to accumulate arsenic present in soils where pesticide-treated cotton was previously grown (1).
Health effects of low level arsenic are fairly diverse, and under investigation. Two studies recently published find that diabetics (in Cyprus) were exposed to roughly twice the amount of arsenic as non-diabetics (2). Another study finds that overweight children (in Taiwan) cannot get rid of arsenic as efficiently as normal weight children (3). Together, these studies suggest that diabetes may develop in some overweight children as a result of arsenic exposure. In addition, low level, long-term arsenic exposure may be related to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease (4).
Arsenic in children’s playground equipment has been linked to higher levels of arsenic on children’s hands (5). It was eliminated from pressure-treated wood in 2003 (and from certain play structures even earlier).
How to avoid arsenic exposure:
- Regularly recoat any deck material build before 2003
- Eat organic chicken (that hasn’t been ingesting arsenic in its feed)
- Test well water (Marin Municipal Water District water does not have arsenic problems)
- Prefer rice from California, where cotton was never previously grown (Lundberg rice at the store; Masa rice at the farmers’ market)
- Limit intake of brown rice syrup, wherever it can be avoided
- Remove shoes inside the house to avoid tracking in chemicals
Myrto Angela Ashe MD, MPH, a member of the MOMS Advocating Sustainability Advisory Committee, practices functional medicine in Mill Valley, CA. She specializes in stubborn, or persistent medical issues that haven’t resolved with other approaches, or seem to require the ongoing use of medication. You can read more at www.marinhealthhub.com.
(2) Science of The Total Environment Volume 414, 1 January 2012, Pages 152–158
The relationship between obesity, insulin and arsenic methylation capability in Taiwan adolescents
Chien-Tien Su and other authors
(3) BMC Public Health. 2012 Jul 4;12:334.
A preliminary assessment of low level arsenic exposure and diabetes mellitus in Cyprus.
Makris KC, Christophi CA, Paisi M, Ettinger AS.
(4) Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 March; 8(3): 861–874.
Long-Term Low-Level Arsenic Exposure Is Associated with Poorer Neuropsychological Functioning: A Project FRONTIER Study
Sid E. O’Bryant, and other authors
(5). Environ Health Perspect. 2004 October; 112(14): 1375–1380.
Arsenic on the Hands of Children after Playing in Playgrounds
Elena Kwon and other authors