Arsenic is a trace element. It is found in several foods including seafood, poultry, grains (especially rice), bread, cereal products, mushrooms, and dairy products. Some forms of arsenic are used as medicine.
Despite serious safety concerns, arsenic is often used as a part of extremely diluted homeopathic remedies that are used for digestive disorders, food poisoning, sleep problems (insomnia), allergies, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Arsenic is also contained in traditional Chinese medicine formulas and used for psoriasis; syphilis; asthma; joint pain (rheumatism); hemorrhoids; cough; itchiness; cancer; to reduce swelling (as an anti-inflammatory agent); and as a general tonic and pain-killer.
Healthcare providers sometimes give arsenic trioxide intravenously (by IV) to treat a type of blood cancer called acute promyelocytic leukemia. This arsenic product is available by prescription only.
Natural medicines can be contaminated with arsenic and may produce symptoms of poisoning when consumed in large amounts or for extended periods of time. Cases of arsenic poisoning have been reported with homeopathic arsenic products and with kelp supplements. High arsenic levels have been reported in people who consume raw opium for long periods of time. Measurable levels of arsenic may be found in some calcium supplements made from algae or shells. A study of 251 herbal products sold in the US detected arsenic in 36 (14%) of them.
How does it work?
Arsenic is a trace element that occurs naturally in very small amounts in the diet. Its exact functions are not known. The estimated adult daily intake of arsenic from a typical diet is 12-50 mcg. A dietary requirement of 12-25 mcg/day has been suggested.
In leukemia, arsenic trioxide increases death of cancer cells.
- Treating a certain type of leukemia (acute promyelocytic leukemia). A specific prescription-only intravenous medication is used for this purpose.
- Food poisoning.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
- Itchy skin.
- Other conditions.
Side Effects & Safety
The form of arsenic found naturally in foods (organic arsenic) does not seem to cause any harm when taken in food amounts.
Arsenic trioxide (Trisenox) is safe when given by IV by a healthcare provider. It is an FDA-approved prescription drug.
Other forms of arsenic (inorganic arsenic) can be very poisonous, even in small doses. Don’t take arsenic supplements. Taking 10 mcg/kg/day over a period of time can produce symptoms of arsenic poisoning. Taking 5 mg of arsenic, or sometimes less, can cause digestive tract symptoms. Higher doses can cause severe poisoning and death. Inorganic arsenic is classified as a human cancer-causing agent.
Laws have been made to regulate the amount of arsenic that is allowed in the water supply. The maximum permissible level of arsenic in drinking water is 10 mcg/L. Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water at a level of 50 mcg/L has been linked to reduced scores on intelligence tests in children.
Special Precautions & Warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: The trace amounts of arsenic naturally found in food are safe. But arsenic supplements should not be taken. Arsenic has been linked to birth defects and other serious harm in animals.
Low levels of folic acid (folic acid deficiency): There is some evidence that folic acid deficiency changes the way the body processes and removes arsenic and may contribute to higher arsenic levels.
Heart problems: The prescription form of arsenic (arsenic trioxide, Trisenox) can affect heart rhythm in some patients.
Major Interaction Do not take this combination
- Medications that can cause an irregular heartbeat (QT interval-prolonging drugs) interacts with ARSENIC
Some forms of arsenic might cause an abnormal heart beat. Taking arsenic along with other medications that can cause an irregular heartbeat might cause serious side effects including heart arrhythmias.
Some medications that can cause an irregular heartbeat include amiodarone (Cordarone), disopyramide (Norpace), dofetilide (Tikosyn), ibutilide (Corvert), procainamide (Pronestyl), quinidine, sotalol (Betapace), thioridazine (Mellaril), and many others.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For treating a certain type of leukemia (acute promyelocytic leukemia): Healthcare providers give prescription-only arsenic intravenously (by IV).