You expect to find heavy metals like mercury in your fish. That’s common knowledge. But are heavy metals creeping into other foods as well?
A new study by Consumer Reports recently found that brown rice – a staple in the diet of many health-conscious Americans – may be contaminated with “worrisome” levels of arsenic.1
Consumer Reports tested 223 samples of rice and rice products such as cereals, baby foods, rice cakes and rice milk, taken from the shelves of grocery stores in the New York metropolitan area or bought online. Every single product they tested – even organic rice – contained arsenic.
In fact, they found that brown rice – what we normally think of as the healthier rice – actually contains more arsenic than refined white rice. That’s because arsenic concentrates in the bran or outer shell of the rice. That bran is removed to make white rice but remains intact for brown rice.
This study demonstrates once again that heavy metals like arsenic are more common than we realize. In fact, 100% of people tested show signs of heavy metal toxicity and it’s estimated that our bodies carry 500 to 1000 times the heavy metal load of our pre-industrial ancestors.
In fact, recent testing suggests that we ALL have levels of chemicals, toxins and heavy metals in our bloodstream… no matter what we eat.
In 2005, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group published a study that analyzed the cord blood of newborn babies.
Right from birth, before these children even left the hospital, researchers found 287 chemicals and other toxins in their blood. And it was not just one or two children… they found these toxins in 100% of the babies tested.2
Here’s what it all means for you and what you can do to protect yourself from your food. PLUS what you can do to easily and safely remove heavy metals from your body.
Should You Really Worry About Arsenic in Your Rice?
There is no need to panic. Although arsenic is a toxic poison, no one is suggesting that people are dropping dead from eating rice. The levels revealed in the Consumer Reports study are not nearly high enough to be so deadly.
The real concern is that arsenic is also a carcinogen. Long term arsenic exposure has been linked to liver, lung, kidney, skin and bladder cancers.3
But how much arsenic is too much? When it comes to food, the truth is, no one knows. Although Consumer Reports found arsenic in all their rice samples, no one has determined yet whether the levels they found are in fact dangerous.
The Environmental Protection Agency has only set safe standards for arsenic in the drinking water. The EPA tells us that 10 parts per billion (ppb) is the maximum safe arsenic level.
But that doesn’t tell us much about safe levels for food, with one exception. When Scottish researchers tested rice milk from supermarket shelves they found that 80% of it exceeded the EPA’s safe drinking water level of 10 ppb.4
That’s a good reason to stop drinking rice milk and substitute another non-dairy alternative like coconut, almond or hemp milk.
As for other foods, there are no standards. The Food and Drug Administration expects to tell us more when it completes its own study of 1,200 samples of rice products at the end of this year.
Then they’ll decide whether the government needs to set standards that will tell food producers how much arsenic their products can contain. Right now, though, the FDA says it doesn’t have enough data to say how much arsenic in your food might be dangerous.
But don’t expect the government to protect you… they won’t. Heavy metals are a serious business and there are no safe levels.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Arsenic and Other Heavy Metals?
The FDA will probably not have safe arsenic standards in place for months if not years. In the meantime, here are 4 simple tips to help minimize your risk.
1. Try cooking your rice like pasta. Cook one cup of rice in six cups of water and pour off the remaining water when the rice is done. This has been shown to reduce arsenic content by about 30%.
2. Don’t forget your antioxidants. Arsenic is linked to cancer because it induces oxidative stress that leads to DNA damage. One Indian study of people chronically exposed to arsenic showed that curcumin, a powerful antioxidant and the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, helped repair DNA damage caused by arsenic.5
3. Are you taking folic acid? A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking folic acid supplements helped reduce blood levels of arsenic by more than 13%.6
4. Think about a heavy metals detox. Your body can process and expel a certain amount of arsenic and other heavy metals on its own. However, if you are concerned about your levels, you may want to consider a gentle detox using fruit pectin.
Pectin is a thickening or gelling agent derived from fruits like apples and oranges. In the digestive tract, it’s been proven to bind with heavy metals, prevent them from being absorbed and drag them safely out of the body.
Just one day of supplementing with pectin from citrus fruit peels was shown in one California study to increase arsenic detoxification by 130%.7
After six days, cadmium detoxification was increased by 150% and lead detoxification was increased by an astounding 560%.
The pectin supplement in the California study was produced by EcoNugenics and is called Pecta-Sol C Modified Citrus Pectin. You can find it online by searching for it.
2 Environmental Working Group. Body Burden – The Pollution in Newborns. July 14, 2005.
3 A H Smith, C Hopenhayn-Rich, M N Bates, H M Goeden, I Hertz-Picciotto, H M Duggan, R Wood, M J Kosnett, and M T Smith, Cancer risks from arsenic in drinking water, Environ Health Perspect v.97; Jul 1992 PMC1519547
4 Meharg AA, Deacon C, Campbell RC, Carey AM, Williams PN, Feldmann J, Raab A. Inorganic arsenic levels in rice milk exceed EU and US drinking water standards. J Environ Monit. 2008 Apr;10(4):428-31
5 Madhumita Roy, Dona Sinha, Sutapa Mukherjee, Jaydip Biswas. Curcumin prevents DNA damage and enhances the repair potential in a chronically arsenic-exposed human population in West Bengal, India. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2011 Mar;20(2):123-31.
6 Mary V Gamble, Xinhua Liu, Vesna Slavkovich, J Richard Pilsner, Vesna Ilievski, Pam Factor-Litvak, Diane Levy, Shafiul Alam, Mominul Islam, Faruque Parvez, Habibul Ahsan, Joseph H Graziano. Folic acid supplementation lowers blood arsenic. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Oct;86(4):1202-9.
7 Isaac Eliaz, Arland T Hotchkiss, Marshall L Fishman, Dorena Rode. The effect of modified citrus pectin on urinary excretion of toxic elements. Eur J Pharmacol. 2008 Sep 4;591(1-3):7-12. Epub 2008 Jun 12.
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