The word “arsenic” strikes fear in most people. This fear traces back centuries, as arsenic was used as a poison for many high profile murders in the middle ages and renaissance. Known as the “poison of kings” and the “king of Poisons” (toxicological sciences), we are exposed to arsenic on a daily basis. The recent report of arsenic in a commonly used acid medication, Zantac (ranitidine), as well as previous findings of arsenic in other medications (for example losartan for hypertension) produced in China and southeast Asia, created a frenzy as literally millions of people rushed to their physicians to change their medications.
I recently had a couple of clients, husband and wife, who came to see me for a wellness evaluation. Both had elevated levels of arsenic and mercury in their bodies. The first thing we did was recommend elimination of the sources of these toxic metals, and we proceeded with detoxification.
The question is, where do we get exposed to these toxins? For this couple, they lived in southeast Asia for several years. But in the United States, we are exposed to these and other toxins on a daily basis. It has been shown that Arsenic is present in our ground water and drinking water, at times, in much higher than “safe” levels. The sources of this include herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, but also from naturally occurring sources such as volcanic rock and soil.
It has been well-reported that rice has high arsenic levels. This is because rice is grown in “boggy” areas, where ground water sits, and allows the roots to bathe in the sediment. Rice is very good at sucking up arsenic. Ground water, and run-off from homes as well as businesses, can potentially make it back to our reservoirs. The FDA has established maximum allowable amounts to be present in our water, but we don’t really know the long term risks of even low levels of continued exposure.
In addition to rice, other food sources can carry arsenic. These include apples and grapes, and even fruit juices. Fruit juices especially, are frequently over the FDA limit, and as we know, kids are probably the primary consumers of these juices. Rice products and other cereals eaten in large part by children, carry these toxins. It is now recommended that children not consume more than one serving of a rice cereal daily, and should be switched to other grains, such as wheat, oats and corn. Pre-prepared foods and supplements can cause significant arsenic exposure, and many of these are not monitored by the FDA. Farm animals raised for meat, eggs and dairy, are naturally exposed to arsenic in the soil and in feed.
Over a period of time, arsenic can increase the risk of heart disease, neurologic disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney problems, blood problems, and liver problems. As you might have heard from recent reports about Zantac, arsenic is considered carcinogenic—cancer causing. In the past 5-7 years, as a gastroenterologist, I have seen an ever-increasing number of people 18-30 years of age with GI disorders. This was almost unheard of in the first 25 years of my practice. The new recommendations for screening for colon cancer have been dropped from age 50 to 45, and will most likely be dropped again to age 40. The number of younger people presenting with cancer, has to be related to toxin exposure.
What to do? Try to stick to organic foods, drink purified water. Consider regular antioxidant and detox supplements. Regularly eat detoxifying foods such as cilantro, parsley, and other green leafy vegetables. See a physician who will order periodic blood tests for arsenic, other metals and toxins. And do not ignore even minor ongoing new or unusual symptoms.