Which Foods And Beverages Contain High Levels Of Toxic Arsenic?


7 Min Read

Dark meat fish (tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon) tend to have high levels of less-harmful organic arsenic. Mushrooms and rice absorb high levels of inorganic arsenic from contaminated soil. Groundwater gets contaminated when it flows through arsenic rocks. Cook rice in more water and drain the water, avoid tobacco and contaminated foods, and spread the lethal alert!

If it is poison, we try and stay away! But, there are certain poisons you cannot escape, and one of them seems to be arsenic. Ingesting a chemical compound in any form is harmful. Although arsenic finds no primary use in consumer products, it is naturally found everywhere – soil, water, and air.

Ingestion of arsenic can be through food, pesticides, industrial processes, water, or tobacco smoking. Traces of arsenic have also been found in some natural and traditional medicines.1

Arsenic is found in both organic and inorganic forms, but inorganic forms of arsenic are more toxic and have more adverse health effects than organic forms. Food is known to be the largest source of arsenic.2

Foods And Beverages High In Arsenic

Fruits, grains, and vegetables grown in soils with high arsenic levels contribute inorganic arsenic to your diet.

Raw rice, cereals, leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts and other members of the cruciferous family (broccoli, kale, cauliflower), apples are all under the scanner for having above average levels of inorganic arsenic.

Here are 6 foods and beverages that contain high levels of toxic arsenic.

1. Seafood

Seafood contains organic components of arsenic, but these are comparatively less harmful than inorganic forms of arsenic. According to a study, the concentration of total arsenic in seafood is high (ranging from 160 ng/g in freshwater fish to 2360 ng/g in saltwater fish).

However, the inorganic arsenic content is comparably negligible (1-2 ng/g).3 Dark meat fish such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, and salmon have been found to be susceptible.4

2. Mushrooms

Arsenic toxicity in mushrooms can be linked to the substrate contamination. As mushrooms absorb minerals and nutrients from the soil, arsenic in the soil can lead to arsenic toxicity in mushrooms. One study found that some samples of mushrooms contained arsenobetaine, a non-toxic form of arsenic.5

3. Rice

Rice, the staple diet in many countries, has been found to contain high levels of arsenic as it readily absorbs minerals from the soil when compared to other food crops.

The methods practised to irrigate and cultivate rice, pesticides used, arsenic levels in soil and water contribute to the level of arsenic toxicity in rice.6

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends cooking rice in excess water and later draining the water out. This can bring down the arsenic levels in rice to a large extent.

4. Organic Brown Rice Syrup

Some studies have found significant levels of arsenic concentration in organic brown rice syrup (OBRS), which is used as a sweetener in organic food products.7

5. Fruit Juices

There has been a concern over the presence of high levels of arsenic in fruit juice, especially apple and grape juices.8

After rigorous testing, the FDA has confirmed that apple juice contains low levels of arsenic and is safe for consumption.9 Arsenic analysis of grape and pear juices is still continuing.

6. Water

Arsenic toxicity in water can occur due to groundwater contamination or via water that flows through arsenic-rich rocks. Drinking contaminated water from tube wells and open wells too can result in arsenic poisoning.

Does It Help If You Eat Organic Produce?

Organic farm produce or organic poultry cannot be considered completely arsenic-free. Arsenic contamination in the soil and water used for irrigating and growing plants and arsenic content in chicken feed become important factors in determining its toxicity.

Arsenic Exposure From Medicines

Interestingly, arsenic is an ingredient in some allopathic, traditional, and natural medicines. It is used in diluted forms to treat insomnia, digestive disorders, anxiety, and some allergies.10

Arsenic trioxide, a cancer treatment drug, is injected intravenously to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). It kills the leukemia cells and helps in the growth of normal blood cells.

These are usually administered under medical supervision. You need to, however, make an informed choice when choosing off-the-shelf medicines, especially of questionable origin.

Effects Of Arsenic Exposure On Human Health

Arsenic toxicity can vary based on its form (inorganic or organic), the period of exposure (long or short term), and bioavailability (level of arsenic content in the environment).

Inorganic compounds of arsenic (found in soil and water) are more toxic than the organic components (found in seafood) and carry a risk of cancer. Also, there are long-term and short-term effects.

Short-Term Exposure

Diarrhea, nausea, skin pigmentation, cramps, and abdominal pain are some short-term effects of acute arsenic poisoning. In extreme cases, it can result in death.

Long-Term Exposure

Prolonged exposure to inorganic arsenic can lead to irregular heartbeat, developmental disorders, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. In Taiwan, arsenic poisoning has been linked to ‘Blackfoot Disease’, a peripheral vascular disease of the blood vessels in the lower limbs resulting in gangrene.

Studies by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) link inorganic and organic arsenic compounds to bladder, skin, and lung cancers in humans.

A report by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) classifies arsenic and its compounds as ‘known to be human carcinogens’.11 The arsenic content in medicines, traditional and natural, is known to pose a risk of skin cancer.

Getting Arsenic Out: Preventive Measures

Although you cannot completely stop the exposure to arsenic, adopting some workable methods can prevent its impact on health. Some measures to reduce its exposure include:

  1. Spreading awareness among the public on the adverse health effects of arsenic. This move might lead to frequent testing of water and soil for arsenic levels, maintenance of a cleaner environment, and frequent medical checks for arsenic poisoning.
  2. Using good protective equipment, such as gloves and respirators, in workplaces that pose a threat of arsenic exposure.
  3. Consuming foods that have less arsenic content and including a variety of foods rich in minerals, proteins, and vitamins in your diet. As rice is known to contain more inorganic arsenic levels, cooking rice in more water and then draining the water will help in removing a large amount of arsenic in rice.
  4. The FDA has set a limit of 10 ppb of arsenic in bottled water. Consuming water within the safe limit will help keep a check on the arsenic intake.
  5. Not smoking tobacco can be helpful in reducing arsenic content in the body.

References   [ + ]

1.Saper, Robert B., Russell S. Phillips, Anusha Sehgal, Nadia Khouri, Roger B. Davis, Janet Paquin, Venkatesh Thuppil, and Stefanos N. Kales. “Lead, mercury, and arsenic in US-and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic medicines sold via the Internet.” Jama 300, no. 8 (2008): 915-923.
2.How Are People Exposed To Arsenic?, The American Cancer Society.
3.Schoof, R. A., L. J. Yost, J. Eickhoff, E. A. Crecelius, D. W. Cragin, D. M. Meacher, and D. B. Menzel. “A market basket survey of inorganic arsenic in food.” Food and Chemical Toxicology 37, no. 8 (1999): 839-846.
4.Cottingham, Kathryn L., Roxanne Karimi, Joann F. Gruber, M. Scot Zens, Vicki Sayarath, Carol L. Folt, Tracy Punshon, J. Morris, and Margaret R. Karagas. “Diet and toenail arsenic concentrations in a New Hampshire population with arsenic-containing water.” Nutrition journal 12, no. 1 (2013): 1.
5.Major symposium on arsenic contamination in food and water supplies, EurekAlert, The Global Source For Science News.
6.The US Food and Drug Administration. “Questions & Answers: Arsenic in rice and rice products.” (2013).
7.Jackson, Brian P., Vivien F. Taylor, Margaret R. Karagas, Tracy Punshon, and Kathryn L. Cottingham. “Arsenic, organic foods, and brown rice syrup.” Environmental health perspectives 120, no. 5 (2012): 623.
8.Arsenic In Your Juice, How much is too much? Federal limits don’t exist, Consumer Reports
9.Arsenic in Apple Juice, FDA, U.S. Food, and Drug Administration
10.Arsenic Overview Information, WebMD.
11.Does Arsenic Cause Cancer?, The American Cancer Society.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.