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

Study links health risks to electromagnetic field exposure

December 13, 2017
A study of real-world exposure to non-ionizing radiation from magnetic fields in pregnant women found a significantly higher rate of miscarriage, providing new evidence regarding their potential health risks. The Kaiser Permanente ...

Increased air pollution linked to bad teenage behavior

December 13, 2017
A new study linking higher levels of air pollution to increased teenage delinquency is a reminder of the importance of clean air and the need for more foliage in urban spaces, a Keck School of Medicine of USC researcher said.

175 years on, study finds where you live still determines your life expectancy

December 13, 2017
Research led by the University of Liverpool has revisited a study carried out 175 years ago which compared the health and life expectancy of people in different parts of the country, including Liverpool, to see if its findings ...

Postmenopausal women should still steer clear of HRT: task force

December 12, 2017
(HealthDay)—Yet again, the nation's leading authority on preventive medicine says postmenopausal women should avoid hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Will 'AI' be part of your health-care team?

December 12, 2017
(HealthDay)—Artificial intelligence is assuming a greater role in many walks of life, with research suggesting it may even help doctors diagnose disease.

State-level disclosure laws affect patients' eagerness to have their DNA tested

December 12, 2017
Different types of privacy laws in U.S. states produce markedly different effects on the willingness of patients to have genetic testing done, according to a new study co-authored by an MIT professor.

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.