Arsenic in Your Rice

October 01, 2012

Arsenic in Your Rice 

Reference: Consumer Reports Nov 2012 

 Arsenic has become the number one heavy metal poisoning in America.  We have curious just where that arsenic is coming from.  How could our mouths be full of mercury in our fillings, and arsenic still edge out mercury as the most common heavy metal poisoning?  Arsenic is a nasty poison.  It is associated with a bunch of cancers like lung, skin, and bladder.  But it is also can cause tingling and burning in the arms and legs, trouble with hearing, heart disease thickening of the skin, liver trouble, and on and on.   

In Bangladesh, shallow wells drilled to get clean water have led to a horrific arsenic poisoning epidemic that has contributed to 20% of the deaths in that country.   WHO says it's safe if you get below 10 micrograms per liter, and Bangladesh had many places with much higher levels. But just what did Consumer Reports find in America?  Rice for our rice region (Arkansas, Texas) has arsenic in it.  Arsenic is fed to hogs and chickens as one method of speeding up growth.  Their manure is full of arsenic.  The manure gets spread on fields.  And there you have it!  That arsenic finds its way into our food supply with even the most iconic of rice products having arsenic in it.  

The table Consumer Reports presents is pretty sobering.   If you consider 10 being the upper limit you should have, (New Jersey puts it at 5) the table shows that many of our rice products in our food supply have 3-8 ppb.   If you eat those products regularly, you get more arsenic.   It appears that whole grains brown rice is the worst as the arsenic concentrates in the brown fiber coating of the grain.   With no regulations on government standards on arsenic in animals feeds, fertilizer, or rice, you end up getting the short end of it.  

This is a touchy time to raise the idea of regulations. Of course, you won’t die from a single serving.   The argument that “our food is safe” is based on the premise that you can easily eat one serving and have no visible or detectable limits today.  But that argument falls pretty short when you think about how long you had planned to hang around.  I’m interested in not getting cancer 20 years from now.  And when I buy a box of rice cereal, I usually finish it.  When I buy a bag of brown rice, I usually eat it all.   Each of us have a set of favorite foods, and we buy that food regularly.  If that food is laced with arsenic, and you eat it regularly, it stands to reason that you might not be well served. 

 WWW.  What will work for me?  I’m not eating any rice products for the foreseeable future.  I measured my heavy metal burden on myself a few months ago and found myself to have more lead than arsenic, but my arsenic level was in the slightly “yellow” zone of cautious exposure.   I had gotten rid of all the treated lumber on our property, including our picnic table as one step of cleaning my home, but I never thought my rice supply would be dirty.  If I want rice, I’ll go the Indian store and buy Basmati.  Tests have shown that to be much cleaner.  And I’ll pay attention to this story.  

Written by John E Whitcomb, MD Brookfield Longevity and Healthy Living Clinic, 17585 W North Ave, Suite 160 Brookfield, WI 53045 262-784-5300