Recently news stories reported that there is arsenic in rice. This is important to know because in large parts of the world rice is one of the main food staples. But rice has also become an important side step from wheat for those who are gluten sensitive. Rice is one of the main ingredients in gluten free diets.
Source of arsenic in rice
Naturally high levels of arsenic in soil can be a source of high levels of arsenic in rice, although these cases are the minority. By and large high arsenic in rice comes from inadvertent, but deliberate human poisoning. As explained in the Consumers Report high arsenic values were found in rice grown in these states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas. These are the same states, where cotton was grown in the past. The U.S. has been the world’s leading user of arsenic. Since 1910 about 1.6 million tons have been used for agricultural/industrial purposes. Half of this was only used since the mid-1960s. Although arsenic use has been banned as an insecticide in the 1980’s, residues from the decades of use still linger on in agricultural soil today. The south-central region of the US was where cotton was produced for a long time. This is a crop where heavy treatment with arsenical pesticides was used for decades in an attempt to combat the boll weevil beetle.
Arsenic containing insecticides are also used in the fruit growing industry. This explains the presence of arsenic in grape juice and apple juice.
Another source are arsenic compounds in chicken feed that is used to promote growth. As a result arsenic can then be found in chicken meat. For this reason alone it is recommendable to eat organic chicken that is free of arsenic.
Keep in mind that brown rice has persistently tested higher in arsenic than white rice.
Alternatives to rice
As drastic as it may sound, your safest approach is to avoid all cereals. This keeps you away from the various forms of gluten proteins that are present in all cereals, even in corn and oats. You can fill your plate safely with organic vegetables like broccoli, bell peppers, asparagus, cauliflower and many others. You also can eat all lettuce varieties including spinach, arugula, Romaine lettuce, head lettuce, super greens and more.
Many people are addicted to grains and grain products, but they can do more harm than good. Wheat has the highest concentration of gliadin, but rye has its own gliadin protein, so does barley. It is much safer on the long term to stay away from them all. Not everybody will agree with me on that, but as far as I am concerned I can live this way quite well. High endurance athletes who seem to need more carbs for fuel, could have sweet potatoes for example instead of grains and do well on that.
Eliminating exposure from arsenic in rice
Now that we know that brown rice has more arsenic in it than white rice, and that Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas have high arsenic because of residual arsenic in their soils, it is relatively easy to choose the right rice, if you decide to consume it. This report explains what are safe rice alternatives and what rice is the safest.
Basmati rice from California is the lowest in arsenic. Quinoa and millet are rice alternatives that are low in arsenic. Low-arsenic buckwheat is not related to wheat and is gluten free.
In this context it is interesting to note that even organic rice cannot be trusted with regard to arsenic toxicity. The last link notes that the rice grains accumulate arsenic from the soil. If the soil or the water are contaminated all of the other organic culturing methods are not enough to protect the crop from arsenic accumulation.
If you are serious about eliminating arsenic from your food, you may want to consider avoiding grains altogether.
What are signs of toxicity from arsenic in rice?
Arsenic toxicity can be acute or chronic. Most of today’s arsenic toxicity is chronic. Arsenic gets slowly accumulated from foods we eat that are contaminated such as regular chicken that was fed arsenic compounds for growth, rice, non-organic grape juice and apple juice. Studies in Argentina and Chile where in some areas drinking water has naturally high arsenic levels, showed that chronic exposure to arsenic is a cause for lung and bladder cancer.
A fast heart beat, low blood pressure and shock can be symptoms of arsenic poisoning. The mental status may be changed, and seizures can occur. A person may present with delirium with irrational thoughts and behaviors. The patient may present with a cholera-like clinical picture with vomiting and severe diarrhea leading to marked dehydration. Liver and kidney damage can occur. The finger nails show white lines across, called Mees lines.
Treating toxicity from arsenic in rice
A study of 3633 individuals showed that those who ate 1 helping of rice per day had a urinary arsenic level that was 44 percent greater than those who did not consume rice. People eating two or more rice products had 70% higher arsenic urine levels that those who ate no rice. It is clear from that study that avoidance of rice is a powerful tool treating chronic arsenic poisoning. With respect to drinking apple or grape juice the total urinary arsenic levels were nearly 20 percent higher than those who did not consume apple or grape juice.
There are natural substances that are good chelators and that have been tested to eliminate arsenic from the body.
Here are natural chelators: milk thistle seed extract, dandelion leaf extract, garlic bulb (allium sativum), cilantro leaf extract, L-glutathione, N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine.
Intravenous chelation using EDTA is the gold standard that is used to get rid of heavy metals including arsenic and lead. Dr. Cranton noted in his book on chelation therapy that arsenic was excreted in the urine within 5 hours of intravenous EDTA chelation (Ref. 1).
Other supportive steps are to check your drinking water for high arsenic and lead levels, particularly if you are on a well. Change the way you cook rice, if you want to continue to eat rice. Rinse the rice with 6 times the amount of water and discard the water. This will lower the arsenic content of the rice by about 30% while you deplete the rice only marginally of vitamin and mineral contents.
Avoid drinking non-organic grape juice and apple juice. This eliminates a significant amount of arsenic from your diet.
If you eat more than two or three helpings of rice per week, consider replacing some rice portions by arsenic-free grains. For those on a gluten-free diet quinoa, millet, and amaranth are good replacement options.
Conclusion regarding arsenic in rice
It is sad to notice that the food industry is inadvertently trying to poison us with arsenic. I am sure this is not deliberately done. But it is necessary for us to defend ourselves and think about the food we are eating. Is it safe? Are we taking the right steps to minimize exposure to arsenic? I have covered this from various angles, avoidance of high arsenic food items, chelating out accumulated arsenic, and preventing further exposure to arsenic. I hope this has been helpful and has shown you what you can do in your particular case.
Ref.1: Special Issue of Advancement in Medicine “A Textbook on EDTA Chelation Therapy”, edited by Elmer M. Cranton, Spring/Summer 1989. Human Sciences Press Inc. NY, USA.