Everyone knows that ARSENIC is a poison and that we should stay far away from it. But can we? Spoiler alert: “No.”

It’s almost impossible to avoid either eating or drinking some arsenic. It’s just about everywhere. In our environment, in the air, and especially in the foods we eat.

Recent article HEADLINES, as usual, have been causing great concern among people who are trying to eat the healthiest diet on earth. Rice is a large part of such a healthier diet. So, some rice eaters were alarmed because of an article a few years ago that focused its attention on rice. This “news” quickly turned a food that was a healthy staple of diets for hundreds of thousands of years into a near-villain. Carnivores were made giddy by it. But was this truly good news for eat more meats, fish and dairy and avoiding yet another fresh whole food?

Arsenic is almost everywhere. It’s almost unavoidable. And, yes, it is in rice, but it is also in every other food. Some of the proliferation of arsenic is caused by mankind from disrupting the natural environment. Yet, as much as we’d like to blame humans for the proliferation of arsenic in our environment, human activity is only partially to blame. Nature has its place, too.

Arsenic is everywhere. It can be found in water wells, lakes, rivers, oceans, the aquifer. It comes from mining of various ores, (cobalt, zinc, gold, etc.). It is brought to the surface by volcanoes and other natural geo-thermal systems. The electronics industry still uses it for components. Until 2003, arsenic-laden, pressure-treated wood was sold, (that green-ish color).  It was also used extensively as a pesticides in farming. It was heavily used in farming until it was discouraged in 1985.

There are two types of arsenic. The organic is deemed to be the much safer version. Then, there is the very dangerous inorganic. We find some of each in our environment.

And, yes, it is found in our food. “…dietary organic arsenic, may be found in bivalve mollusks (clams, oysters, mussels) and crustaceans (crabs and lobsters)…are generally considered to be nontoxic, and are excreted in urine within 48 hours of ingestion [ATSDR 2007].” [Source: Agency For Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, Environmental Health and Medicine Education, “Arsenic Toxicity…Where is Arsenic Found? WB1576, Oct. 1, 2009.]

The WHO, (World Health Organization), says that the more dangerous type of Arsenic, the inorganic form, is found in the water systems of many countries including emerging countries and also in China, India, Mexico, and USA. Arsenic is on the list of WHO’s top 10 chemicals of major worldwide public health concern. According to WHO, people are exposed to arsenic, the more dangerous form, the inorganic form of arsenic, from, “…drinking-water, crops irrigated with contaminated water and food prepared with contaminated water…” WHO goes on to list the types of foods contaminated: “Fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, dairy products and cereals can also be dietary sources of arsenic, although exposure from these foods is generally much lower compared to exposure through contaminated groundwater. In seafood, arsenic is mainly found in its less toxic organic form.” [Source: “Arsenic Fact sheet N°372,
December 2012. WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION Online. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs372/en/ ]

In a New Hampshire study of 852 people and 120 foods, they probed to determine the human level of toxicity with a special emphasis on determining if RICE and SEAFOOD were significant contributors, once drinking-water Arsenic contamination levels were known and adjusted. In other words, the question to resolve was, correcting for water-born arsenic, does rice or seafood increase our exposure to Arsenic? Their conclusions stated that the stronger correlations came with, “…alcoholic beverages and Brussels sprouts, but also dark meat fish”. There may be lots of reasons for rice not being detected as significant, but for whatever reason, rice did NOT appear to be an important factor in their conclusions. Though, wine and beer was!  [Source: “Diet and toenail arsenic concentrations in a New Hampshire population with arsenic-containing water” By Cottingham, Karimi, Gruber, et. al. NUTRITION JOURNAL. No. 16, 2013 12:149 DOI: 10.1186/1475-289]

A CONSUMERS REPORT in 2012 did a study of over 3,600 people and over 200 rice products. It reached the conclusion that YES there was Arsenic in rice. And in a previous study they discovered it was also in apple and grape juice. Based on the amount of dietary exposure to Arsenic contributed by rice, CONSUMER REPORTS ranks it as third down from the top of a list of dietary sources with vegetables being number one, fruits and fruit juices as number two, and then rice as number three. [Source: “Arsenic in your food: Our findings show a real need for federal standards for this toxin.” CONSUMER REPORTS. Published: November 2012.] 

That’s almost like telling their readers who fear any arsenic contamination to avoid all sources of whole food plants. Once you rule out vegetables, fruits, grains, and “starches” such as rice, what’s left to eat from the “fresh food” kingdom? NOTHING. So, readers would naturally think, “Aha. Here’s another study telling me that ‘protein’ is a healthy diet.” And, they’d be dead WRONG.

Too much “protein”, meaning, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy, may not be the alternative. Doctors who are busy reversing Type-2 diabetes, some forms of arthritis, plugged arteries, and heart attacks, would definitely argue that meat is NOT the way to go and that fresh whole-plant-foods is: Collin T. Campbell, PhD., Caldwell Esselstyn, MD., John Mcdougall, MD., Neal Barnard; MD, and others.

There’s also a phenomenon in the animal kingdom known as “Bio-accumulation”: contaminants accumulate in an animal’s body and become more concentrated than the original fresh food source. If humans eat animals then humans eat more concentrated forms of a contaminant. If the animal is eating inorganic arsenic, it is accumulating in the muscles, fats, blood vessels that people eat. People who eat animals may be eating a more concentrated amount of the chemical.

And, besides, the WHO, mentioned earlier in this Nugget, already suggested that meat, fish, and poultry are also sources of Arsenic.

Despite the “level playing field” out there among food sources of arsenic, there can still be small choices that might make a small difference. For example, if you want to eat rice, then choose rice from regions you may expect to have lower amounts of inorganic arsenic in the soil and in the ground water used to irrigate crops. Dr. McDougall offers this tip, “… rice purchased from California growers has about half the arsenic as rice produced in Louisiana…arsenic-based insecticides, before being banned in 1988, were extensively used to kill boll weevils on cotton crops grown in the southeastern US (Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas). Many of these same lands have been turned into rice fields.” [Source: “Arsenic In Rice”, by John McDougall, MD. December 31, 2014. Online.]   Click here to read Dr. McDougall’s full article.

And, if you are a chicken lover, you’ll find this to be a delicious morsel to sink your teeth into: “…Organic arsenic–the form of arsenic that is less toxic and not carcinogenic–is the active ingredient in approved arsenic-based animal drugs… approved for weight gain, feed efficiency and improved pigmentation in chickens.” [Source: “Questions and Answers Regarding 3-Nitro (Roxarsone)” by U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Last Updated: 04/01/2015 Online. http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm258313.htm#What_did_FDA_announce_ ]

Bottom line:  Arsenic is everywhere and in almost all foods. Eat the healthiest diet you can.

Reader warning: The above is for information and entertainment purposes only. Before you make any changes to diet or lifestyle, be sure to check with your doctor who is certified and qualified to diagnose, prescribe and treat illnesses.