Arsenic in our food


Rice Fields Gunma, Japan.

When I first heard the news that they have discovered Arsenic in our food, most recently rice and rice products I was in shock, and disbelief.  More disturbing however, is the fact that choosing gluten free options for food products often results in consuming foods made from rice.  Depending on the individual and family this could amount to a lot of rice consumption.

Consumer Reports investigated 200 samples of rice products.  They included iconic labels and store brands, organic and conventional ones.  In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms.  We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern.

Is there a “safe level” for arsenic exposure?  The Environmental Protection Agency assumes there is actually no “safe” levels of exposure.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recognizes arsenic and arsenic compounds as group 1 carcinogens.  Excretion of arsenic occurs in the urine and long-term exposure to arsenic has been linked to bladder and kidney cancer in addition to cancer of the liver, prostate, skin, lungs, and nasal cavity. (The Tox Guide for Arsenic  2007).

Other countries such as Bangladesh have had widespread arsenic contamination of groundwater leading to arsenic poisoning.  In the U.S., arsenic is most commonly found in the ground waters of the southwest.  Knowing that rice is grown in water-flooded conditions, it therefore makes since that arsenic would  be easily taken up.

Arsenic has many uses, including surprisingly agricultural uses as an insecticidal.  Consumer Reports stated the U.S. is the worlds leading user of arsenic, and since 1910 about 1.6 million tons have been used for agricultural and industrial purposes.  Residues from the decades of use of lead-arsenic insecticides linger in agricultural soil today, even though their use was banned in the 1980’s.

In the U.S. as of 2010, about 15 percent of rice acreage was in California, 49 percent in Arkansas, and the remainder in Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.  That south-central region of the country has a long history of producing cotton, a crop that was heavily treated with arsenical pesticides for decades in part to combat the boll weevil beetle.  (Consumer Reports)

I was surprised to learn that  arsenical ingredients in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth are still permitted.  I thought that organic rice will be the savior here, but alas, even products with organic rice when tested did not fare well.  

Generally babies first solid food is rice cereal.  Several baby food products tested contained worrisome arsenic levels.  

How to protect yourself and your family 

suggestions listed here in italics from Consumer Reports:

Certainly test your water if you are have a well.  There is a federal Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.  Personally I think it makes since to filter any water consumed.

Change the way you cook rice.  You may be able to cut your exposure to inorganic arsenic in rice by rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice for cooking and draining excess water afterward.  Research has shown that rinsing and using more water removes about 30 percent of the rice’s inorganic arsenic content.  This seems like a simple reasonable suggestion that I think I will try.  

Eat a varied diet.  Some vegetables can accumulate arsenic when grown in contaminated soil.  The FDA’s Total diet Study, provides more complete information about arsenic content in a variety of foods.  Go to and search for “total diet study analytical results.”

Experiment with other grains.  Though not arsenic-free, wheat and oat tend to have lower levels.  

Other gluten grains such as quinoa, millet, and amaranth unfortunately have not been studied as much.  These are the go to gluten free grains when rice is not an option.

I plan to check out the total diet study analytical results.  I also plan to make attempts at varying my diet to include a wide variety of leafy veggies and different gluten free grains.  Cooking rice on the occasion I want it, with significantly more water seems to be an easy option.  Cutting out my rice protein powder and my rice milk, once a significant part of my diet, will be easy enough.  I am assuming that the more changes I make, will cut down on the levels of arsenic that my body must process.

The community of people that have chosen to remain gluten free for health and allergy concerns is a resourceful group. We as a group are use to thinking outside the box, and choosing “alternative” food choices.  I refuse to go negative, thinking such things as, it is already hard enough to be gluten free, without worrying about toxins.   I am convinced that as we emerge a more aware, choosy consumer, companies will begin to deliver cleaner healthier products.

A closing interesting side note to all of this is how the human body clears toxins such as arsenic.  Inorganic arsenic and it’s compounds upon entering the food chain are progressively metabolized to a less toxic form of arsenic through a process of Methylation. (Life Sciences 7: 165-229)

 This subject of the Methylation pathway catches my attention, as it continues to come up in areas of interest I have been focusing on.  Methylation denotes the addition of a methyl group to a substrate.  In short it is one of the ways we detoxify.  Without adequate ability to methylate we have impaired detoxification systems, immune system mal-function, our ability to repair cells and and fight against oxidative stress is hampered.  

Dr. Kendal Stewart has discovered in clinical practice that a large majority of Autistic Spectrum disorders, he feels are in part a results of impaired Methylation.

What does this mean for all of us?  We live in a toxic environment   We can try to make alterations when possible, and the rest is left up to our body systems to handle.  Some body systems work really well at this, others not so much.  You will most likely know if you are one of those that seems to have more bad days than good lately.  You will most likely know if you are one of the ones that needs to be more vigilant at making clean choices more than others.  

If you are interested in discussing this further, such as testing choices, activated vitamins, and detoxification help; feel free to make a Naturopathic appointment on my web site and chose the link to Schedule Now.