The Effects of Arsenic in the Food System

The Effects of Arsenic in the Food System

ARSENICS DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS ON CHILDREN

The Effects of Arsenic in the Food System

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is found just about everywhere in nature. This highly toxic element is absorbed into the food that we feed ourselves and our families every day, and finding ways to avoid it’s detrimental health effects is crucial. Arsenics effects on the human body have been studied for centuries, revealing that these elements can be especially dangerous in the growing bodies and brains of children. TestSharing tested some popular baby snacks of popular brands such as Earth’s Best, HappyBaby, and Similac, and were shocked from the high concentrations of arsenic in the results.   

What is arsenic and where is it found?

Arsenic is considered a heavy metal because it’s high in density and is by definition, highly toxic or poisonous in high concentration. There are two types of arsenic compounds found that naturally occur in the environment: organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic compounds are molecules that have a lower toxicity rate than inorganic arsenic and are generally found in seafood from absorbed seawater. Inorganic arsenic compounds are the most common source of food contamination and are found in water, soil, and even in the air. Inorganic arsenic compounds are a result of the industrial system, pesticides use and are used in food/medical additives. Pesticides are believed to be the main culprit of distributing arsenic residues in food, due to the decades of high doses used throughout agriculture. These pesticides contaminated the soil, so much so that some research suggests that its chemical effects are almost irreversible in some areas of agriculture. Inorganic arsenic compounds are spread throughout agriculture through waterways as well, which leach into our crops and in our public water system. High arsenic residues are commonly found in vegetables, rice, and some fruit juices. Concentrations of arsenic are found in meat and poultry, as a result of the animals consuming contaminated plants. Similar to other heavy metals in plants, the animals absorb the compounds into their digestive system, where it then accumulates in their fatty tissues.

Just like animals, the trace amounts of arsenic in foods we consume accumulate in our bodies and lead to many alarming health effects. Arsenic has been associated with serious diseases relating to many organs in the body and has been classified as a carcinogen. Since children tend to eat or drink a less varied diet, ingestion of arsenic-containing foods, juice, or formulas significantly affect children’s health. Common side effects of children who are exposed to arsenic include stomach irritation, blood vessel and cell damage, and reduced nerve function. Long term exposure to arsenic in children results in lower IQ scores and cognitive impairment. Recent studies have concluded that prenatal arsenic exposure is an endocrine disruptor, and can cause many issues in child development like neurological damage.

What is the government doing to regulate arsenic?

There are many varying regulations in regards to arsenic levels in food and drinking water across the globe. In some countries, including Australia, Columbia, and Argentina, arsenic was banned for industrial and agricultural use years ago. While in the United States and some parts of the European Union, government agencies established regulatory levels and limits for arsenic residues, that were based on the tolerance levels recorded decades ago. Although arsenic compounds are classified as toxic to human health, they are still used in food processing and ending up on our dinner table. This is a major concern, especially for parents trying to keep our children safe. There is science-based evidence showing that the effects of arsenic on children are much more dangerous than the effects of fully developed adults. In the US, there are NO regulatory limits for arsenic in infant baby formulas and food! The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a “guidance draft” for arsenic in baby food in 2016 but has not taken action or finalized any method of regulation to protect the health of children. How are we supposed to trust the government agencies in place to protect our children’s health if they’re not taking immediate action? The results of TestSharing’s lab tests performed on popular baby food brands were alarming, showing a portion of these brands went over the legal standards based in Europe. See the results for yourself in the database in the app.  

What are ways we can avoid arsenic consumption? 

Avoiding high arsenic concentrations in water can reduce family exposure rates significantly. Pipes in homes that are not properly maintained produce toxins like arsenic, increasing contamination in local tap water. Before filling your glass with water that you intend to drink - run the tap for a solid minute, allowing the heavy metals to run through the pipes. Substituting tap water with filtered water, or using filtering systems at home is a great way to avoid high levels of exposure. In the US, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also provides information on other contaminants in public water, and offers free water testing by state. Visit the EPA’s website for more information.

Fortunately, there are methods of cooking that can actually reduce inorganic arsenic residues. Cooking rice products with higher water ratio to what the recipe normally calls for can reduce arsenic levels. Steaming is also a wonderful way to cook vegetables, due to the high volume of water needed. Vary your diet by using rice alternatives for cereal, flour, pasta, and snacks. Some alternatives include quinoa, barley, grits/polenta, couscous, or cauliflower, and farro. For babies and infants, soft fruits and vegetables like sweet potato, squash, bananas, and avocados are great easy-to-digest options. Purchasing food products, produce, and baby formulas from trusted, organic, and ethically sourced brands should be a major priority in keeping your household arsenic-free. Regularly test your favorite food at home with our app, giving you the choice to be toxin-free.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5