What you eat can prevent arsenic overload

June 28, 2012

Millions of people worldwide are exposed to arsenic from contaminated water, and we are all exposed to arsenic via the food we eat. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Nutrition Journal has demonstrated that people who ate more dietary vitamin B12 and animal protein had lower levels of arsenic (measured by deposition in toenails). Total dietary fat, animal fat, vegetable fat and saturated fat were also all associated with lower levels of arsenic, while omega 3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, were associated with increased arsenic.

Long term exposure to high levels of arsenic is known to cause , cancer and cardiovascular disease, and also affects foetal development. Even low concentrations of arsenic are potentially dangerous. Arsenic is found in some water supplies, but more people are exposed via their diet. Staples such as rice contain arsenic, especially the toxic inorganic forms, while fish, although high in total arsenic, contains organic forms which are thought to be less toxic.

Inside the body arsenic is methylated to aid excretion in urine but arsenic also has an affinity for keratin and can be deposited in hair and nails as they grow. Consequently levels of arsenic preserved in nails or hair can be used as a biomarker for over periods of months to years.

Researchers from Dartmouth College and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth looked at the levels of arsenic in toenails of residents of New Hampshire who all use private groundwater wells as their household water source.

Results of the study showed that arsenic in nails was positively associated with both alcohol and , however, lower levels of arsenic were found for people who ate greater amounts of vegetable and animal fat. Prof Kathy Cottingham, who directed the study, explained, "While there may be a direct interaction between fats and arsenic preventing absorption or binding to keratin in nails, the results may simply reflect dietary preference, with people who eat a diet rich in fats not eating foods high in arsenic, such as rice."

Joann Gruber, who led the study, noted that, "Humans can be very efficient at removing arsenic from the body. Improved methylation reduces the amount of inorganic arsenic circulating in the body. Surprisingly, we didn't see a reduction in toenail arsenic with other dietary factors known to be necessary for arsenic methylation such as folic acid. This may be because the population we sampled had adequate amounts of these factors in their diet."

The authors are currently working on similar studies in children, through the Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center at Dartmouth.

Explore further: Arsenic for better drugs and cleaner crops

More information: Associations between toenail arsenic concentration and dietary factors in a New Hampshire population, Joann F Gruber, Margaret R Karagas, Diane Gilbert-Diamond, Pamela J Bagley, M Scot Zens, Vicki Sayarath, Tracy Punshon, J Steven Morris and Kathryn L Cottingham, Nutrition Journal (in press)

Related Stories

Arsenic for better drugs and cleaner crops

June 25, 2012

Research carried out at the University of Gothenburg may lead to more effective arsenic-containing drugs. The results may also lead to more resistant plants, and crops with a limited absorption and storage of arsenic.

Recommended for you

Big Data can save lives, says leading cancer expert

May 16, 2016

The sharing of genetic information from millions of cancer patients around the world could be key to revolutionising cancer prevention and care, according to a leading cancer expert from Queen's University Belfast.

New soap to ward off malaria carrying mosquitoes

May 13, 2016

(Medical Xpress)—Gérard Niyondiko along with colleagues Frank Langevin and Lisa Barutel has posted a project on the crowd source funding site ulule for a product called Faso Soap. They claim the soap can cut in half the ...

Smartphones uncover how the world sleeps

May 6, 2016

A pioneering study of worldwide sleep patterns combines math modeling, mobile apps and big data to parse the roles society and biology each play in setting sleep schedules.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.