WHAT IS ARSENIC?
Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally as both an organic (coming from plants and animals) and inorganic (coming from the soil and water) compound. It is most famous for being poisonous in large doses but recent research suggests that it is an essential micromineral (or trace element) in humans when taken in smaller amounts. However, its exact role in the body is unclear. In this article I will be discussing arsenic in greater detail.
WHEN WAS ARSENIC DISCOVERED?
Awareness of arsenic dates back to ancient times where the Chinese, Greeks, Egyptians and Romans are all thought to have mined arsenic compounds. Early alchemists were also aware of this element and gave it an alchemical symbol. Albert Magnus (also known as Albert the Great) was the first person to isolate this element in 1250 by heating orpiment (a common compound of arsenic) with soap.
HOW DOES YOUR BODY USE ARSENIC?
The human body stores between 10 milligrams (mg) and 20mg of arsenic throughout the body. It is only in recent years that arsenic has been considered as an essential nutrient in humans and even now its exact role is unclear. However, research suggests that it may have the following roles in the body:
– Assisting in the metabolism of methionine (an essential amino acid that promotes healthy growth).
– Promoting healthy growth.
– Regulating gene expression.
– Supporting the reproductive system.
– Treating digestive problems.
HOW MUCH ARSENIC DO YOU NEED?
Since very little information is available on arsenic there is no official recommended daily allowance (RDA). However, it is thought that an intake of between 0.0125mg and 0.025mg per day is adequate for humans.
WHICH FOODS CONTAIN ARSENIC?
The majority of the arsenic found in foods is organic (for which there are no associated side effects). However, inorganic arsenic (which is a known poison and can be toxic in very small quantities) can find its way into drinking water and soil. It may therefore in rare circumstances indirectly enter foods in this way. For example, animals may consume water containing inorganic arsenic or plants may be grown in soil containing inorganic arsenic.
Most foods contain some arsenic and so an average diet should provide adequate levels. The exact amounts of arsenic in specific foods are not yet known but the approximate levels for certain food groups are listed below:
– Bread and Cereal:- 0.00245 mg per 100 grams (g).
– Fats and Oils:- 0.0019 mg per 100g.
– Fish:- 0.1662 mg per 100g.
– Meat:- 0.00243 mg per 100g.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF GETTING TOO MUCH ARSENIC?
As discussed above, the majority of arsenic found in food is organic and is not known to be toxic in high doses. However, getting too much inorganic arsenic can be very dangerous as it is a known poison and can be lethal. Inorganic arsenic is believed to be toxic if levels of 0.01mg per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight or more are consumed each day. For an average adult this equates to just under 1mg per day.
The most common cause of overdose is drinking water becoming naturally contaminated with inorganic arsenic when it is released from underground rocks. However, inorganic arsenic is also used in certain chemicals and inhalation or skin contact with these can lead to an overdose. In situations where an overdose does occur it can cause:
– Anemia (a low red blood cell count).
– Arsenism (a condition where the skin pigmentation changes and layers of horny skin start to develop).
– Cancer (particularly bladder cancer, lung cancer and skin cancer).
– Dermatosis (a skin condition which causes eruptions and lesions).
– Gastrointestinal problems.
– Liver damage.
– Peripheral neuropathy (loss of nerve function in the arms and/or legs).
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF NOT GETTING ENOUGH ARSENIC?
The research on arsenic deficiency is mainly based on animal studies. However, it is believed that failure to consume at least 0.0125mg of arsenic can have the following negative effects on humans:
– Abnormal growth.
– Heart muscle disorders.
– Skeletal disorders.
Arsenic is most famous for being a poison. Whilst this is true for inorganic arsenic, organic arsenic may have a role to play in healthy growth. Since it is a relatively new addition to the micronutrient family a lot more research needs to be done to determine the exact effects this nutrient has on human health. Until that research is available, I hope this article has given you a brief taster of arsenic and its potential role in human health.
Now I want to hear your thoughts. Were you aware that arsenic was a micromineral? Did you know it may have potential health benefits in humans? Let me know by posting a comment.
Arsenic (Best Home Remedies)
Arsenic as a Nutrient (Colloidal Minerals)
Arsenic (Chemistry Explained)
Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc (2001) (National Agricultural Library)