A LITTLE ARSENIC IN YOUR COCKTAIL?
HERE’S SOMETHING sure to make you cringe: White wine, beer and Brussels sprouts can be major sources of the toxic metal arsenic in people’s diets, according to a new study published in the November issue of NUTRITION JOURNAL. Researchers analyzed the diets of 852 people in New Hampshire, and the levels of arsenic in their toenails, which show long-term exposure to the chemical. Of the 12O foods the researchers looked at, four turned out to significantly raise people’s arsenic levels: beer, white wine (and to a lesser extent, red wine), Brussels sprouts and dark-meat fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, according to the study.
The most significant source of arsenic is drinking water. The new study is the first to take into account the levels of arsenic in the participants’ household water when looking at the amount of arsenic coming from foods. The results suggest that diet can be an important source of people’s arsenic exposure, regardless of arsenic concentrations in their drinking water. The element arsenic occurs naturally in the environment. Long-term exposure has been linked to increased risks of bladder, lung and skin cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits the arsenic in drinking water to 1O micrograms per liter, but there are few limits set for foods. In the study, the arsenic levels in the participants’ household tap water were well below the EPA limit. People who reported drinking on average two and a half beers or a glass of white wine every day had arsenic levels 2O to 3O percent higher than those of people who didn’t drink. The study wasn’t designed to find why higher consumption of beer and wine was linked to higher arsenic levels, but a few scenarios are possible, Cottingham said. One possibility is that the ingredients in beer and wine are high in arsenic. It is also possible that arsenic is added during the filtration process that gives beer and wine their sparkly, clear looks, as one recent study suggested. And lastly, alcohol itself may be to blame for the higher arsenic levels by impairing the body’s ability to detoxify arsenic. “The mechanisms that our bodies use to try to get rid of the stuff that is not good for us can be impaired by alcohol consumption,” Cottingham said. Perhaps an arsenic test for all of us is in the cards?