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Arsenic Found in Rice at High Levels

Heath Effects at Lower Levels Uncertain

At high levels, arsenic causes discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness, paralysis, and blindness.

But at the low levels most people are exposed to through food and drinking water, the dangers are less clear. People who drink water with moderate levels of arsenic -- higher than levels typically seen in the U.S. supply -- over a long period of time have higher rates of bladder, lung, and skin cancers. Long-term exposure has also been linked to heart disease, and in children, to problems with learning and IQ.

Because arsenic is naturally found in the soil, water, and air, it’s also found in many fruits and vegetables. Rice is uniquely vulnerable to contamination with arsenic, however, because it’s grown in flooded fields. Rice plants soak it up through their roots and store it in the grains.

“The arsenic levels measured in rice are relatively high. They are higher than levels measured in other grains such as flour products or than those measured in fruit juice,” says Ana Navas-Acien, MD, PhD, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md.

Her analysis of government nutrition data found that people who eat one rice food item have arsenic levels that were about 44% higher than those who didn’t. People who reported eating two or more items had 70% higher arsenic levels than those who had none.

“I believe it is time to set standards in food, as well as to monitor arsenic levels in food, and to find methods to minimize arsenic exposure through dietary intake, especially rice,” she tells WebMD.

Advice for Consumers

To lower your exposure to arsenic, Consumer Reports offers these tips:

  • Test your water. If your home is not on a public water system, have your water tested for arsenic and lead.
  • Change the way you cook rice. Boiling rice with more water than you need and draining it afterward removes about 30% of the inorganic arsenic. Try using a ratio of 1 cup of rice to 6 cups of water.
  • Eat a varied diet. Some vegetables accumulate arsenic when grown in contaminated soil. To help, clean vegetables thoroughly, especially potato skins.
  • Eat other grains. Wheat and oats have lower levels of arsenic than rice. For those who need to eat gluten-free, quinoa, millet, and amaranth may be better options.

 

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