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A Common Organic Sweetener May Boost Arsenic Levels in Foods

Study Shows Brown Rice Syrup Adds Arsenic to Many Natural, Organic Products

How Arsenic Gets Into Rice

Arsenic is a colorless, tasteless substance that’s naturally present in the environment. It’s also used as a fertilizer and wood preservative. Once in the soil, it can persist for years. It easily dissolves in water.

According to a previous WebMD interview with John M. Duxbury, PhD, a professor of soil science and international agriculture at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., rice is particularly vulnerable to arsenic contamination because it grows in water. 

Because arsenic is stored in the darker outer layers of the rice grain, called the germ, brown rice contains higher levels of arsenic than white rice.

Long-term exposure to arsenic, typically from drinking well water, has been linked to cancers of the bladder, liver, kidney, skin, prostate, and lungs. Recent research has also tied chronic arsenic exposure to an increased risk for heart disease. Jackson says more research is needed to understand how arsenic in foods may contribute to those health risks.

For babies, arsenic is another reason why breast milk may be the healthiest option.

“Breast milk has very little arsenic in it, even if the mother is exposed to a lot of arsenic. It doesn’t travel through the mammary glands,” Bloom says.

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