Is Arsenic in Your Rice?

By Christine Carlson, CN

By now you've probably heard the news that came out in September, 2012 announcing the finding of "worrisome" levels of arsenic in ordinary rice sold in the U.S. Arsenic is a common, naturally-occurring, but toxic element. It occurs in both organic and inorganic forms. When speaking of chemistry, the term organic does not mean safe or created without man-made chemicals; it simply refers to the chemical compound, which has carbon-hydrogen bonds. Inorganic molecules are those without carbon-hydrogen bonds. Arsenic occurs naturally in our environment in both forms, but the inorganic form seems to be the more toxic, and this is the form that Consumer Reports wrote about in September 2012. This form is known to cause bladder, skin, and lung cancer. Organic arsenic is found, for example, in seafood.

In the article, the amount of arsenic found in rice varied depending on where it was grown and whether it was brown or white. Brown rice had consistently higher levels of arsenic than white rice, since the bran of rice contains high amounts of the element. With white rice, the bran is milled away, reducing the arsenic amount. By location, the highest levels of arsenic were present in rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas. Lower levels were found in rice grown in California, Thailand, and India. Rice tends to bioaccumulate arsenic because the element is present in ground water and rice is grown in watery fields, but also in part due to residues of past arsenical insecticide use and continuing use of fertilizers that contain arsenic.

Can we detoxify and protect against arsenic?

Our bodies do have ways to deal with this, as well as other toxic compounds. Ensuring optimal nutrient status (including all the B vitamins) is one way. Using specific detoxification compounds like the Daily Detox Drink or Detoxication Factors can help. This gives us B12, folate, and various other nutrients that help support the methylation and sulfation detox pathways, two ways that arsenic compounds are excreted. In addition, make sure you have adequate protein in your diet. This will give you the sulfur-containing amino acids needed for these detoxification pathways. Also make sure you have optimal amounts of selenium and iodine; deficiencies of these two minerals will increase uptake and storage of arsenic in the body.

How can we deal with this toxic element in our food supply?

Consider exploring the use of other grains such as millet, quinoa, and teff. And, if you are using rice, you can remove some of the arsenic by rinsing the rice very well several times and/or soaking for several hours and rinsing thoroughly before adding fresh cooking water. Also, cooking it in a more traditional 4:1 or 6:1 ratio of water to rice and then pouring off the extra cooking water is another way to decrease your exposure. We applaud regulatory agencies' efforts to more closely monitor toxins in our food supply and to find the cleanest, safest products. Dealing with toxins in our modern environment is inevitable, but identifying their source and supporting your body's efforts to detoxify is a sure-fire way to stay healthy.