Posted by: Chris Maloney | September 16, 2011

Arsenic in Apple Juice: Was Dr. Oz Crying Wolf? The Data.

diagram of a human digestive system

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Well, the Kennebec Journal just informed me about the Dr. Oz show’s arsenic issue.  If  you’ve been reading the KJ lately, you’ll know we have more arsenic in the local well water than we’d like.  So making apple juice from concentrate at home might give the kids more arsenic than they’d get in the juice packs.

The FDA and other labs are claiming that Dr. Oz used an inaccurate testing, giving apple juice the same once-over that you would drinking water.  They claim he’s making it up, that his tests are finding organic arsenic (bound) that will not be absorbed.  So even though it’s in the apple juice, it won’t get into the kids.

In all this I started getting confused about whether or not the arsenic in the local Maine wells is organic or inorganic.  Isn’t it likely that most of the well arsenic is also bound in some way?  But we have Columbia University up here checking our children‘s brains for damage from this naturally occurring arsenic.  So is it safe or isn’t it?

Short answer:  we don’t know.

Oh, you can track the arsenic into the apple, and you can test the levels of various arsenic compounds in the apple juice.  But unless the FDA has done a full analysis of the gastrointestinal effects of that arsenic we do not know if a child’s gut has broken down the arsenic or let it “pass harmlessly through.”  The assumption that it is harmless without the research to back it up (nothing published on medline regarding apple juice, arsenic, and children) doesn’t have a sound backing.

Lest I sound like another wolf caller, I looked at the effects of organic arsenic in rice, in wine, and in traditional medicines that have specifically bound the arsenic so it will not be toxic.  In all cases, the level of arsenic, and the type of arsenic, varied considerable.  In the wine, “the amount of soluble As would equate to around half of the acute minimal lethal dose for adults.” (see abstract below)

If wine, rice, and traditional medicines do not comprehensively and consistently bind organic arsenic, then without large scale studies the FDA is simply trying to calm consumers.  They cannot prove that the organic arsenic is not absorbed by children.  It probably isn’t, but that really isn’t how we like to do things in the U.S.

Is Dr. Oz crying wolf?  My answer is I’d like to see the purity standards on concentrates raised.  It isn’t that much of a stretch to think that arsenic in the pesticides sprayed on the apples elsewhere is getting into the system, and that currently those levels vary depending on the apple crop and location.

I’ve included the abstracts below.

Sci Total Environ. 2011 Oct 1;409(21):4545-52. Epub 2011 Aug

Bioaccessibility of lead and arsenic in traditional Indian

Koch I, Moriarty M, House K, Sui J, Cullen WR, Saper RB,
Reimer KJ.


Environmental Sciences Group, Department of Chemistry and
Chemical Engineering, Royal Military College of Canada, Canada.


Arsenic and lead have been found in a number of traditional
Ayurvedic medicines, and the practice of Rasa Shastra (combining herbs with
metals, minerals and gems), or plant ingredients that contain these elements,
may be possible sources. To obtain an estimate of arsenic and lead solubility
in the human gastrointestinal tract, bioaccessibility of the two elements was
measured in 42 medicines, using a physiologically-based extraction test. The
test consisted of a gastric phase at pH 1.8 containing organic acids, pepsin
and salt, followed by an intestinal phase, at pH 7 and containing bile and
pancreatin. Arsenic speciation was measured in a subset of samples that had
sufficiently high arsenic concentrations for the X-ray absorption near edge
structure analysis used. Bioaccessible lead was found in 76% of samples, with a
large range of bioaccessibility results, but only 29% of samples had
bioaccessible arsenic. Lead bioaccessibility was high (close to 100%) in a
medicine (Mahayograj Guggulu) that had been compounded with bhasmas (calcined
minerals), including naga (lead) bhasma. For the samples in which arsenic
speciation was measured, bioaccessible arsenic was correlated with the sum of
As(V)-O and As(III)-O and negatively correlated with As-S. These results
suggest that the bioaccessible species in the samples had been oxidized from
assumed As-S raw medicinal ingredients (realgar, As(4)S(4), added to naga
(lead) bhasma and As(III)-S species in plants). Consumption at recommended
doses of all medicines with bioaccessibile lead or arsenic would lead to the
exceedance of at least one standard for acceptable daily intake of toxic elements.

Crown Copyright © 2010. Published by Elsevier B.V. All
rights reserved.

PMID: 21864885

Sci Total Environ. 2011 May 15;409(12):2357-60. Epub 2011
Apr 5.

Assessment of the solubility and bioaccessibility of arsenic
in realgar wine using a simulated gastrointestinal system.

Zhang YN, Sun GX, Williams PN, Huang Q, Zhu YG.


Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese
Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China.


Consumption of arsenic (As) wine is a traditional activity
during the classic Chinese festival of Duanwu, colloquially known worldwide as
the Dragon Boat Day. Arsenic wine is drunk on the morning of the fifth day of
the fifth lunar calendar month to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a famed
Chinese poet who drowned himself in protest of a corrupt government, and to
protect against ill fortune. Although realgar minerals are characteristically
composed of sparingly soluble tetra-arsenic tetra-sulfides (As(4)S(4)), purity
does vary with up to 10% of As being present as non-sulfur bound species, such
as arsenate (As(V)) and arsenite (As(III)). Despite, the renewed interest in As
speciation and the bioaccessibility of the active As components in realgar
based Chinese medicines, little is known about the safety surrounding the
cultural practice of drinking As wine. In a series of experiments the
speciation and solubility of As in a range of wines were investigated.
Furthermore, a simulated gastrointestinal system was employed to predict the
impact of digestive processes on As bioavailability. The predominant soluble As
species found in all the wines were As(III) and As(V). Based on typical As wine
recipes employing 0.1 g realgar mL(-1) wine, the concentration of dissolved As
ranged from ca. 100 to 400 mg L(-1) depending on the ethanol content of the
preparation: with the As solubility found to be higher in wines with a lower
proportion of ethanol. Based on a common 100 mL measure of wine with a
concentration of 400 mg As L(-1), the amount of soluble As would equate to
around half of the acute minimal lethal dose for adults. This is likely an
underestimate of the bioaccessible concentration, as a three-fold increase in
bioaccessibility could be observed in the intestinal phase based on the results
from the stimulated gastrointestinal system.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

PMID: 21470664

Arch Environ Health. 2004 Jul;59(7):337-41.

Human health risks from arsenic in soils: does one model fit

Sarkar D, Datta R.


Earth and Environmental Science Department, University of
Texas at San Antonio, Texas 78249-0663, USA.


In the absence of a “soil model” on arsenic
bioavailability, many investigators conducting baseline risk assessments of
arsenic-enriched sites have assumed that all arsenic present in the soil is
bioavailable. This assumption overestimates actual human health risk because
various geochemical forms of arsenic are stable, or insoluble, in human
digestive juices. The authors conducted a laboratory incubation study to
analyze the in vitro bioavailability of arsenic in soils as a function of soil
properties. Four different soil types were selected on the basis of their
potential differences with respect to arsenic reactivity. Each soil was amended
with sodium arsenite at a rate representative of a routine 1-yr application of
arsenical pesticide in an agricultural system. The soils were incubated for 1
yr, after which the authors measured soil-specific total and bioavailable
arsenic concentrations. Results demonstrated that soil physicochemical
properties significantly affect arsenic bioavailability, and hence estimates of
cancer risk, which in turn affect site cleanup cost projections.

PMID: 16241037

Plant Physiol. 2010 Jan;152(1):309-19. Epub 2009 Oct 30.

Grain unloading of arsenic species in rice.

Carey AM, Scheckel KG, Lombi E, Newville M, Choi Y, Norton
GJ, Charnock JM, Feldmann J, Price AH, Meharg AA.


Institute of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University
of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, United Kingdom.


Rice (Oryza sativa) is the staple food for over half the
world’s population yet may represent a significant dietary source of inorganic arsenic
(As), a nonthreshold, class 1 human carcinogen. Rice grain As is dominated by
the inorganic species, and the organic species dimethylarsinic acid (DMA). To
investigate how As species are unloaded into grain rice, panicles were excised
during grain filling and hydroponically pulsed with arsenite, arsenate,
glutathione-complexed As, or DMA. Total As concentrations in flag leaf, grain,
and husk, were quantified by inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy and
As speciation in the fresh grain was determined by x-ray absorption near-edge
spectroscopy. The roles of phloem and xylem transport were investigated by
applying a +/- stem-girdling treatment to a second set of panicles, limiting
phloem transport to the grain in panicles pulsed with arsenite or DMA. The
results demonstrate that DMA is translocated to the rice grain with over an
order magnitude greater efficiency than inorganic species and is more mobile
than arsenite in both the phloem and the xylem. Phloem transport accounted for
90% of arsenite, and 55% of DMA, transport to the grain. Synchrotron x-ray
fluorescence mapping and fluorescence microtomography revealed marked
differences in the pattern of As unloading into the grain between DMA and
arsenite-challenged grain. Arsenite was retained in the ovular vascular trace
and DMA dispersed throughout the external grain parts and into the endosperm.
This study also demonstrates that DMA speciation is altered in planta,
potentially through complexation with thiols.

PMID: 19880610

Environ Pollut. 2006 Sep;143(2):197-205. Epub 2006 Feb 15.

Distribution of soil arsenic species, lead and arsenic bound
to humic acid molar mass fractions in a contaminated apple orchard.

Newton K, Amarasiriwardena D, Xing B.


School of Natural Science, Hampshire College, 869 West
Street, Amherst, MA 01002, USA.


Excessive application of lead arsenate pesticides in apple
orchards during the early 1900s has led to the accumulation of lead and arsenic
in these soils. Lead and arsenic bound to soil humic acids (HA) and soil
arsenic species in a western Massachusetts apple orchard was investigated. The
metal-humate binding profiles of Pb and As were analyzed with size exclusion
chromatography-inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (SEC-ICP-MS). It
was observed that both Pb and As bind “tightly” to soil HA molar mass
fractions. The surface soils of the apple orchard contained a ratio of about
14:1 of water soluble As (V) to As (III), while mono-methyl (MMA) and di-methyl
arsenic (DMA) were not detectable. The control soil contained comparatively
very low levels of As (III) and As (V). The analysis of soil core samples
demonstrated that As (III) and As (V) species are confined to the top 20 cm of
the soil.

PMID: 16480799


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