The symptoms of long-term arsenic poisoning include:
• Areas of dark pigmentation in the skin
• Muscle weakness
• Symmetrical calluses on the palms of both hands or the soles of both feet
• Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
• White bands across the fingernails
• Yellowing of the skin
n 2011, American TV personality Dr. Oz provoked a controversy with the US Food and Drug Administration by reporting, correctly, that apple juice contains measurable amounts of arsenic. However, Oz's findings do not mean that apple juice is poisonous. The world's most famous toxin is also an "ultratrace" nutrient, and you can actually find arsenic supplements for sale in Asia. They are meant to be supplements, not poisons, because there are arsenic-deficiency diseases in chickens, pigs, and goats.
Arsenic seems to be involved in the formation of enzymes that the body needs to use the amino acid methionine. It also seems to be necessary for cofactors of S-adenosylmethionine, also known as SAM-e, and for co-factors that help the heart use the amino acid taurine.
Arsenic In Your Diet
Even in an unpolluted world, there would be small amounts of arsenic in most cereal grains and fish. Scientists estimate that the human body needs between 12 and 25 micrograms of arsenic per day, but even people who eat organic foods get between 25 and 40 micrograms of arsenic per day. The kind of arsenic we consume in our food is non-toxic, because it is bound to the amino acid methionine. Only the kind of arsenic found in industrial chemicals and arsenic-based poisons is toxic to the human body. Since the body uses S-adenosylmethionine to neutralize arsenic and it needs methionine (an amino acid most abundant in egg whites, brown rice, Brazil nuts, tuna, wheat germ and peanuts), folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 to make S-adenosylmethionine, getting all the protein and all the B vitamins you need helps your body fight arsenic exposure.
So What’s the Problem with Arsenic?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring toxin that is ubiquitous in the modern environment. Exposure to arsenic is global and life-long. In the United States, arsenic is a widespread contaminant of drinking water, especially on Long Island and in the cotton-growing counties of the rural South and Southwest. People who work in factories that make glass or semiconductors or in power plants are at special risk. In some Third World countries entire populations are at high risk for arsenic poisoning; 50 million people suffer this condition in Bangladesh alone.
Arsenic contamination has been known to occur in imported “herbal” remedies (maya yogarraj guggulu from India and “herbal balls” for cataracts imported from China), a depilatory imported from Iran, wine produced from grapes in vineyards sprayed with arsenic, and, disconcertingly, in some baby cereals made in the United States. For many years, most cotton fields in the United States were sprayed with arsenic to defoliate the plants and make cotton easier to pick. Long-term exposure to arsenic is a major contributing factor to atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, and bladder cancer, as well as cancers of the liver, kidneys, and skin. Exposure to arsenic greatly increases the damage done by radiation. Uranium miners, for instance, are 10 times more likely to develop lung cancer if they have been exposed to arsenic. Even a relatively short-term exposure to arsenic, such as the time needed to discover arsenic in a drinking water supply, can increase the risk of lung cancer by over 1,000 percent.
Arsenic damages tissues through the massive release of free radicals of oxygen. Cells exposed to arsenic produce about 3 times as many damaging free radicals as other cells. These reactions occur within minutes of arsenic exposure and can lead to gene mutations and death of the cell. Arsenic causes cells throughout the body to lose the ability to release energy from glucose, by blocking the enzyme succinic dehydrogenase.
The symptoms of arsenic poisoning are distinctive and readily recognizable to any physician aware of the possibility of the condition. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include white bands across the nails, yellowing of the skin, and calluses that appear in mirror images on both hands or both feet. In some cases, arsenic poisoning will cause hair that has gone gray to regain its natural color.
A “natural” approach won’t cure acute arsenic toxicity, but it can help reduce the effects of long-term exposure.
Vitamin C: at least 1,000 mg per day. Vitamin E: 400 IU per day. Any high-potency multivitamin and multimineral supplement.
Silymarin (milk thistle) phytosomes: 70–210 mg 3 times daily.
Fortunately, cell damage from arsenic exposure is not inevitable. The scientific team that identified the free-radical action of arsenic on healthy tissues also found that antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E cut the production of free radicals in half. This gives other mechanisms in the cells a chance to offset the genetic damage cause by arsenic. There has not yet been clinical research to establish effective doses of antioxidant vitamins for cancer protection. The doses recommended here are estimates. It is also possible that future research will show that other antioxidants will be more effective.
A high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral supplement will provide the liver with the B-complex vitamins, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, and zinc it needs to detoxify small quantities of arsenic. Sulfur-containing foods such as eggs, garlic, and onions provide the sulfur needed for sulfation, the process by which the liver is able to bind arsenic before it reaches the general bloodstream. If you cannot eat these foods, take supplemental cysteine, methionine, and taurine. Silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle, protects the liver itself against chemical damage. Some people experience diarrhea when they first start taking silymarin, but this side effect usually stops after 2–3 days.
Additional concepts for coping with arsenic exposure:
• Hair analysis offers a good measure of arsenic exposure. Chelation therapy is effective against arsenic exposure, but the chelating agent most physicians knowledgeable of the condition will use is not EDTA but British anti-Lewisite.
If you have a deck or playground built with arsenic-treated wood:
• Replace arsenic-treated decks, swing sets, and picnic tables with products built with arsenic-free wood. That is the safest—if least economical—solution. At a minimum, homeowners should seal the existing wood at least once a year.
• Don’t store children’s toys under decks. Arsenic leaches off wood when it rains and could coat the toys. Children and pets should be kept away from the dirt beneath and immediately surrounding the deck.
• Cover any picnic table made with arsenic-treated wood with a tablecloth before using it.
• Demand wood treated with arsenic-free preservatives when buying new wood at your local home improvement center.