Arsenic is an element that is extremely toxic to human health. Arsenic poisoning or arsenicosis occurs when someone is exposed to high levels of arsenic, typically by unknowingly ingesting it. Although uncommon, poisoning can occur by inhalation or through dermal absorption.  Despite this, or maybe because of it, humans have used arsenic in many capacities- as an insecticide, as a toxic agent of war, and even as a wood preservation. However, its use in countless industrial applications has contributed to pollution at all levels. Additionally, arsenic exists naturally in the environment. The combination of these factors means that the most common method of exposure occurs by drinking contaminated water.
Arsenic in Water
Pollution has made groundwater contamination of arsenic a worldwide problem that affects people, crops, and livestock.  In 2012, the University of Washington School of Law published information that brought light to the fact that many water systems in the United States are affected by unacceptably high arsenic levels and money is not available to address the problem. Poor communities were identified to be the highest at risk. 
Arsenic in Food
Arsenic laced water becomes a compound problem when crops and livestock are given that water. “You are what you eat” or, “you are what you consume” applies to animals and plants just as much as it does humans. When the University of Washington analyzed over 30 types of apple juice, they found arsenic in all samples and over 30% contained arsenic levels at or above drinking water exposure limits. 
Rice is eaten by the vast majority of the world’s population and, like many crops, can become contaminated with arsenic.  This problem is not limited to China or India as “organic brown rice syrup” (OBRS) is a popular “organic” alternative to high-fructose corn syrup. The Dartmouth College Department of Earth Sciences tested products that contained OBRS and the results were as disappointing as arsenic is toxic.
Researchers discovered that an “organic” toddler milk formula (with OBRS as the primary ingredient) had arsenic levels over five times higher than the levels the EPA deems acceptable for water. Additionally, cereal and energy bars containing OBRS had higher arsenic levels than products without. Beware and watch out for this stuff yourself! The United States currently has no regulations governing arsenic in food, the need for change is both urgent and dire. 
Arsenic in Nutritional Supplements
If you take nutritional or herbal supplements, it is vitally important that you only do business with reputable manufacturers whose production process is completely transparent, ethical, and bio-friendly. In China, water is recognized as a main source of arsenic. What do you think happens when therapeutic herbs are given contaminated water? According to China’s Hebei Agricultural University, Chinese Herbal Medicines can be a serious arsenic exposure hazard. 
Effects of Arsenic Exposure
Arsenic is a carcinogens and recognized as an environmental and occupational pollutant. Regular exposure leads to cancer and other toxic health effects, including cardiovascular disease, skin hyperpigmentation, keratoses, neurological problems, and developmental disorders. A 581-participant study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health confirmed the association between arsenic exposure and DNA methylation, a biological process that causes many debilitating and fatal diseases.   Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has linked arsenic exposure to high blood pressure and the New York University School of Medicine cites it as a contributor to cardiovascular disease.  Also, most toxic chemicals adversely effect the male reproductive system and arsenic is one of them; Chinese research has confirmed it reduces semen quality.  Arsenic poisoning symptoms begin with:
- Abdominal pain
- Severe diarrhea
Arsenic Inhibits Healthy Development
The University of South Carolina Department of Environmental Health Sciences warns that arsenic, along with lead and mercury, are known to produce horrible neurological effects on developing fetuses and young children.  Arsenic exposure during the first trimester of pregnancy is known to cause intellectual disabilities and the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Health Sciences reports that prenatal arsenic exposure may lead to diseases later in life; bladder cancer has been known to develop up to 20 years after exposure.   
Minimizing Arsenic Exposure
Only consume purified water. Get yourself a small water purification device and, if budget allows, consider a water purification system for your entire house. This is mandatory.
Because arsenic is very prevalent, total avoidance can be difficult but there are lifestyle adjustments you can take to minimize your exposure risks. To help achieve complete wellness, I recommend regular body cleansing in addition to following a healthy diet.
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Arsenic Toxicity, What are the Physiologic Effects of Arsenic Exposure?
- Bundschuh J, Nath B, Bhattacharya P, Liu CW, Armienta MA, Moreno López MV, Lopez DL, Jean JS, Cornejo L, Lauer Macedo LF, Filho AT. Arsenic in the human food chain: the Latin American perspective. Sci Total Environ. 2012 Jul 1;429:92-106. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.09.069. Epub 2011 Nov 23. Review.
- Levine RL. The need for congressional action to finance arsenic reductions in drinking water. J Environ Health. 2012 Nov;75(4):20-5.
- Wilson D, Hooper C, Shi X. Arsenic and lead in juice: apple, citrus, and apple-base. J Environ Health. 2012 Dec;75(5):14-20; quiz 44.
- Sun GX, Van de Wiele T, Alava P, Tack F, Du Laing G. Arsenic in cooked rice: effect of chemical, enzymatic and microbial processes on bioaccessibility and speciation in the human gastrointestinal tract. Environ Pollut. 2012 Mar;162:241-6. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2011.11.021. Epub 2011 Dec 13.
- Jackson BP, Taylor VF, Karagas MR, Punshon T, Cottingham KL. Arsenic, organic foods, and brown rice syrup. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 May;120(5):623-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104619. Epub 2012 Feb 13.
- Liu XJ, Zhao QL, Sun GX, Williams P, Lu XJ, Cai JZ, Liu WJ. Arsenic speciation in Chinese Herbal Medicines and human health implication for inorganic arsenic. Environ Pollut. 2013 Jan;172:149-54. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2012.09.009. Epub 2012 Oct 9.
- Lambrou A, Baccarelli A, Wright RO, Weisskopf M, Bollati V, Amarasiriwardena C, Vokonas P, Schwartz J. Arsenic exposure and DNA methylation among elderly men. Epidemiology. 2012 Sep;23(5):668-76.
- Sabath E, Robles-Osorio ML. Renal health and the environment: heavy metal nephrotoxicity. Nefrologia. 2012 May 14;32(3):279-86. doi: 10.3265/Nefrologia.pre2012.Jan.10928. Epub 2012 Feb 28. Review. English, Spanish.
- Abhyankar LN, Jones MR, Guallar E, Navas-Acien A. Arsenic exposure and hypertension: a systematic review. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Apr;120(4):494-500. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1103988. Epub 2011 Dec 2. Review.
- Wu F, Jasmine F, Kibriya MG, Liu M, Wójcik O, Parvez F, Rahaman R, Roy S, Paul-Brutus R, Segers S, Slavkovich V, Islam T, Levy D, Mey JL, van Geen A, Graziano JH, Ahsan H, Chen Y. Association between arsenic exposure from drinking water and plasma levels of cardiovascular markers. Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Jun 15;175(12):1252-61. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr464. Epub 2012 Apr 24.
- Xu W, Bao H, Liu F, Liu L, Zhu YG, She J, Dong S, Cai M, Li L, Li C, Shen H. Environmental exposure to arsenic may reduce human semen quality: associations derived from a Chinese cross-sectional study. Environ Health. 2012 Jul 9;11:46. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-11-46.
- Ratnaike RN1. Acute and chronic arsenic toxicity.Postgrad Med J. 2003 Jul;79(933):391-6.
- Aelion CM, Davis HT, McDermott S, Lawson AB. Metal concentrations in rural topsoil in South Carolina: potential for human health impact. Sci Total Environ. 2008 Sep 1;402(2-3):149-56. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.04.043. Epub 2008 Jun 6.
- McDermott S, Bao W, Marjorie Aelion C, Cai B, Lawson A. When are fetuses and young children most susceptible to soil metal concentrations of arsenic, lead and mercury? Spat Spatiotemporal Epidemiol. 2012 Sep;3(3):265-72. doi: 10.1016/j.sste.2012.05.001. Epub 2012 Jun 13.
- Pilsner JR, Hall MN, Liu X, Ilievski V, Slavkovich V, Levy D, Factor-Litvak P, Yunus M, Rahman M, Graziano JH, Gamble MV. Influence of prenatal arsenic exposure and newborn sex on global methylation of cord blood DNA. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37147. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037147. Epub 2012 May 25.
- Fernández MI, López JF, Vivaldi B, Coz F. Long-term impact of arsenic in drinking water on bladder cancer health care and mortality rates 20 years after end of exposure. J Urol. 2012 Mar;187(3):856-61. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2011.10.157. Epub 2012 Jan 15.
- Sears ME, Kerr KJ, Bray RI. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:184745. doi: 10.1155/2012/184745. Epub 2012 Feb 22. Review.