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By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director

Arsenic. It’s a classic poison—one of civilization’s original environmental toxins. This hazard is so old school we don’t give it much thought anymore (except in those rare cases where massive exposures to contaminated water cause widespread trouble).

Time to start giving it some thought.

Increasingly, researchers are now saying that the typical low arsenic exposures Americans commonly encounter in daily life are much riskier than previously thought, especially during pregnancy and childhood.

Though the findings are not without controversy, growing numbers of studies are contradicting traditional views about arsenic poisoning. New evidence suggests that there may not be a threshold for harm where arsenic is concerned and that any exposure, no matter how small, may increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, immune dysfunction, and cancer.

There are two kinds of arsenic—organic and inorganic. Organic forms are quickly eliminated from the body and are considered much less toxic than inorganic types. Inorganic arsenic is rapidly absorbed by bodily tissues and capable of triggering a wide variety of health problems, from kidney and neurological damage to cardio-pulmonary and reproductive issues.

Arsenic can be difficult to avoid because it’s a common element in the earth’s crust and often found in groundwater supplies. Still, there are steps we can take to protect our families:

  • Eat less rice. Tests show it often contains arsenic at levels above those considered “safe.” Substitute grains like quinoa or choose imported varieties like basmati and jasmine, which have lower levels. White rice has less than brown because arsenic tends accumulate in the bran.
  • Watch your kids’ juice intake. Tests of apple juice and grape juice found that many had excessive levels of arsenic. Be aware that most juice blends use apple as a base.
  • Choose organic chicken, which isn’t treated with the arsenic-based drugs administered to conventional birds.
  • Test your water. If arsenic is found, adsorption filters, ion exchange purifiers, and reverse osmosis filtration can help.
  • Use herbal medicines and supplements cautiously. Ayurvedic, and traditional Chinese and other Asian medicines as well as kelp supplements and similar seaweed-based products can contain significant amounts of arsenic.


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