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Low levels of arsenic may decrease head circumference at birth, according to Dartmouth study


(NaturalNews) Arsenic is one of the most toxic elements in the world, and millions of Americans unknowingly consume it every day. It's been known for some time that arsenic increases the risk of heart disease, as well as skin, bladder and lung cancers. Adding to the list of potential side effects, a recent Dartmouth College study found that low levels of arsenic consumed by pregnant women in drinking water and food may impact fetal growth.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, and was the first research project to investigate the birth outcomes of pregnant women exposed to arsenic levels common in the United States.

An invisible poison

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element and industrial byproduct, most often found in soil and bedrock in many parts of the United States. The toxin has no smell, taste or color when dissolved in water, at low or high concentrations. Consequently, laboratory analysis is needed to detect the presence of arsenic in its relative concentrations.

Arsenic is found in a myriad of foods. The highest concentrations of arsenic tend to be found in rice. No federal limits have been set for arsenic. Although the FDA has a program that screens for harmful substances, whenever arsenic is found, it is treated on a case by case basis.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set 10 parts per billion (ppb) as the allowable level of arsenic for public drinking water. Private wells tend to have concentration levels higher than this limit. In 2003, the EPA considered lowering the drinking water standard from 50 ppb to as low as 3 ppb. The agency eventually settled for 10 ppb. Lower levels were criticized on the grounds that it would be expensive for water companies to meet such standards.

Even low levels of arsenic can impact fetal development

Former studies have suggested that in utero exposure to high levels of arsenic is associated with lower birth weight. By contrast, the researchers in the recent study analyzed the birth outcomes of in utero exposure to low levels of arsenic generally present in the United States. The team found that higher levels of arsenic in the urine of pregnant women during the second trimester was associated with a smaller head circumstance at birth. The findings were in alliance with a previous study by the same researchers that reviewed head circumferences documented in fetal ultrasound reports.

Children are more sensitive to arsenic, let alone any water contaminant, than adults. Low levels of arsenic have been found in mother's breast milk. The toxin intersects with the placenta, which increases the risk of exposure to the fetus. Dietary arsenic tends to be present in low amounts. Arsenic poisoning often does not cause immediate side effects. Long-term exposure to arsenic is the foremost cause of concern, which has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and reduced intelligence.

In the recent study, the team discovered that mothers' urinary arsenic levels were correlated with a newborn's birth weight and birth lengths These correlations differed by a mother's pre-pregnancy body mass index and the sex of the child. The study involved more than 700 mother and newborn pairs, making it large enough to recognize these variations.

"Future research is needed to assess whether the relatively small differences we found correspond to meaningful differences in how infants and children grow and develop," lead author and assistant professor of epidemiology, Diane Gilbert-Diamond, said in a press release.

People who draw water from private wells would be well advised to test the water to determine whether arsenic is present. As senior author and professor Margaret Karagas notes:

"This is a particular concern in rural regions where many people rely on private, unregulated drinking water. People who use private wells need to have them tested for arsenic and other contaminants as recommended by their local public health agency."

More than 40 million Americans drink water from private wells. According to a U.S. Geological Survey, up to 3 million of these private wells have arsenic levels that exceed EPA limits. Distilled water may be a safer alternative for those drinking from a private well.

Arsenic in food

Arsenic isn't just in water, however. The contaminant is present in food, most notably rice and rice products. Consumer Reports tested 223 samples of rice products in 2012, and discovered worrisome levels of arsenic greater than five ppb.

Arsenic levels vary based on where the rice is produced. The highest concentrations of arsenic tend to be found in parts of Asia, where the bedrock contaminates the groundwater used both for drinking and quenching water fields.

Consumers seeking rice and rice products low in heavy metals can reference the Natural News Store. All of the products have been tested for heavy metals using atomic spectroscopy instrumentation. Click here to the see the laboratory results at the Natural News Forensic Food Labs. Be sure to visit FoodForensics.com to learn more about heavy metals in the food supply.

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