What You Need To Know About Arsenic In Your Food

4 Comments 09 October 2012

I thought I’d lighten things up a bit with this Woody Allen Sleeper clip.  Who knew this movie line was prophetic?! 😉

Basically, here are my notes from the event Arsenic In Your Food: A Conversation With Consumer Reports. I was able to attend in person and even ask the expert panel questions. Oh, and it was at the 3 W. Club in Midtown, a gorgeous historic space I probably walked by a zillion times and never knew existed.

Before we get started…

I’d like to make it clear that I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I am going to tell you to do your homework.

I have a strong hunch that this topic isn’t going to go away soon, and loads of “information” that will soon be floating around will be supplied by a lot of sources that may not be entirely accurate. Keep in mind that advertisers and the National Rice Association will also want to steer you in a direction that serves their best interests. So, in situations like this it is best to educate yourself with information from experts on this topic.

(BTW, I personally just turned down a $500 contract for recipe development with a rice based pasta. I had already signed it, and for some strange reason I had procrastinated submitting it over the last few weeks. Phew! (or Dang!? ;)) After what I learned last week, it really didn’t feel right for me to promote a rice based product.)

Read this article in Consumer Reports titled Arsenic In Your Food.
Most of the same information was discussed at the Consumer Reports event.


I thought the introduction was fair. They made it clear they didn’t want to alarm people, and that there is so much more research that needs to be done, BUT considering what they DO KNOW, they felt it was important to let consumers know the facts about arsenic in food. And that there is a strong proven connection between arsenic and cancer.


Cancer was discussed initially because the the Consumer Reports article leaned towards the clear link between arsenic exposure and  cancer. However, arsenic is also linked to many other health issues.

The original article mentions significant levels of organic AND inorganic arsenic being found in rice and rice based foods. The inorganic arsenic is known carcinogen and “organic arsenic , which is less toxic, but still of concern.”

Laurie Meadoff (not to be confused with Madoff ;))
CEO of Cancer Schmancer 

Cancer Schmancer is the organization that Fran Drescher  created after surviving uterine cancer. She’s created her own movement to educate people about cancer prevention.

She shared some startling cancer facts:

Only 5-10% of cancer is hereditary…raises the question of what causes the other 90%?

Today 1 out of 2 men and 1 out of 3 women get cancer.


I already use almost all natural body care products and household cleaners, just because I believe natural is better, but this information really made clear the dangers of using crappy chemical laden products.

So, there is a great database of products on Cancer Schmancer where you can “Check, Choose, and Change” your products to safer ones.

And you can even host your own Trash Cancer party, which is like a Tupperware Party format, except you just educate your friends all about toxic products and better choices. Hmm…sounds like something that would be fun to do virtually for the Celiac Chicks community! What do you think?

Dr. Michael Harbut – Arsenic Expert
Chief of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and head of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Environmental Cancer Program

The arsenic story is complex, one reason for delayed info/action.

25 years ago, he had a patient with acute non accidental exposure to arsenic, complete with a disgruntled wife and miserable marriage. (The stuff Agatha Christie novels are made of.)

Back then doctors were taught that environmental exposure to arsenic was low and related to only 4% of cancers, until it was found out that the wife of a lead scientist behind these studies was taking money from a company that wanted the study to be skewed.

Keep in mind that in America, it has to be proven that something DOES CAUSE CANCER for there to be warnings about it or limits put on it. This puts consumers at a disadvantage.

I have a copy of his peer reviewed article in The Archives of Environmental Health in July/August 2000. It refers back to the water issue in the US when they set the arsenic standard for water at 50 ppb (parts per billion, similar to how we measure gluten ppm or parts per million). I’m waiting for a pdf to be emailed to me so that I can give it to you.

Interesting points from the article:
(All article points contain an asterisk, other points are notes or my commentary.)

*The National Academy of Sciences recommended a “substantial reduction” in the present 50ppb of arsenic in water based on increased cancer incidence alone. [It has been lowered since then, but my notes will continue on this topic.]

*The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and EPA have listed arsenic as the first hazardous substance in their list: “Top 20 Hazardous Substances.”

Arsenic Link To Cancer

*Prior and recent peer reviewed publications have shown that arsenic is associated with the following cancers: skin cancer, including Bowen’s disease, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, lung, bladder, kidney, liver, prostate, digestive system, nasal cavity, and bone cancer; acute myelogenous leukemia and lymphoma.

Arsenic Link To Noncancer Diseases
*Recent peer-reviewed publications have shown that arsenic is associated with morbidity and mortality from the following noncancer diseases:

1) Respiratory disease: bronchitis

2) Benign skin changes (e.g., patchy hyperpigmentation, eczematous dermatitis, hyperkeratosis of palms and soles, follicular dermatitits, pyoderma.

3) Circulatory diseases, especially peripheral vascular diseases (e.g., blackfoot disease), ischemic heart disease, hypertension, cerebrovascular disease (e.g., cerebral infarction, cerebral hemorrhage).

4) Diabetes Mellitus

5)Neurological disorders in the form of peripheral neuropathy, tremors, encephalopathy, and confusion, delirium, and seizures.

6) Hepatomegaly , liver cirrhosis, and jaundice

7)Hematological disorders (e.g. anemia; leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, eosinophilia, pancytopenia, impaired folate metabolism, basophilic stippling, karyorrhexis. )

8) Gastrointestinal disturbances (e.g., nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and stomatitis.

9) Systemic manifestations (i.e., hypovolemia-hypotension, anorexia and weight loss, and malaise and fatigue).

10)Kidney disease

11) Irritation of the mucous membranes of the respiratory system, conjunctivitis and rhinitis.

* The presence of arsenic in the body is best measured with a 24 hour urine-arsenic test. There is no evidence in the literature for an absolutely safe level of urinary arsenic excretion with respect to cancers or non cancer diseases.

*A dose-response relationship for arsenic has been shown for many of these diseases listed in Taiwan where the arsenic levels in water are very high. The findings are provocative, but need verification in other populations; therefore, generalizations are tentative, and caution is advised.

* I like how the article ends: ” Investigators must undertake additional research to determine a precise and safe arsenic level – if such a level exists.

Dr. Harbut ended by saying that the natural occurrence of arsenic is 1 ppb, but to remember that gasoline and asbestos are naturally occurring as well, but you don’t want to consume them.

Personally, I’m going to remember this when people try to minimize the seriousness of this issue. I’ve already heard the line, “organic arsenic occurs naturally…”

OK…if I’m getting some serious numb butt after writing this, you probably are as well after reading it! ;)   I have 3 more experts to go…I’ll write those up ASAP.

And please help spread this information to as many people as possible. It’s my goal to give everyone a fair choice to eat or not to eat rice and rice foods based on accurate knowledge. Thanks!

And I promise I have some good news following all of this!



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Your Comments

4 Comments so far

  1. 1
    Katie Bagby says:

    Hi Kelly –
    I understand that arsenic is extremely dangerous. What I don’t see in this article is the link specifically to rice. Is that somewhere else?

      Kelly says:

      Hey Katie…Someone didn’t do their homework! heh heh no prob! 🙂 Go up to where it says in bold type DO YOUR HOMEWORK and click on the link for the Arsenic In Your Food article. It’s a lot of info, might want to print it out. It’s the Consumer Reports November issue info on arsenic in rice.

      Thanks for commenting though, let’s me know that I need to be one of those “cool” teachers that gives out the cliff notes! I’ll do a blog post with highlights of the article.

  2. 2
    Denise says:

    oh joy, ” investigators must undertake additional research to determine a precise and safe arsenic level”

    Anyway, thanks again Kelly;you’re time, energy, smarts, support, love are very much appreciated, & I shall 4ward any & all info off 2 my sis n HI who also has Celiac Spru and a whole host of other health issues like moi.

    I have not completely stopped partaking of brown rice & b r pastas & the like, but am slowly weaning myself off of all;not an easy thing 2 do as u well know, but I 4 one am gettn really fed up w/being sick more often than not, & am so done w/all this x-rays, ct’s, sonogrms, blood wrk & hm kits 2 dermine this or that & 2 recent near death…well, enuf abt all this…Time 2 “‘hit the hay” anyway!

    Much ♥ 2 ya’ Kelly


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Kelly Courson


Thanks for stopping by! I'm Kelly Courson and this is where I've shared my gluten-free finds since 2003. The world has been my gluten-free oyster for 14 years now and I love sharing what I've learned in order to help others adapt to a gluten-free diet. Have a look around and feel free to leave a comment. Connecting with people like you is what has kept me going this long! Seriously.

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