Rice May Pose Arsenic Risk For Pregnant Women

Rice may pose an arsenic risk for expectant mothers and may also pose risks to their developing fetuses, which can prompt premature births, according to emerging research on the popular staple.

The study found that pregnant women who regularly consume rice may be at increased risks for consuming arsenic, said Bloomberg Businessweek. The study found that pregnant women who ate rice in the two-day period prior to having their urine analyzed tested with a median level of the dangerous heavy metal that was 56% higher than women who had not consumed rice during that time, explained Businessweek.

The study looked at 229 New Hampshire women and was adjusted for arsenic content in their water supply, according to the study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said Businessweek.

Arsenic can be found naturally in water, air, food, and soil in both organic and inorganic forms. While organic arsenic passes out of the body quickly and is considered harmless, inorganic arsenic, which can be found in pesticides, for instance, can be toxic and carcinogenic. Ongoing arsenic exposure can, at first, lead to gastrointestinal problems and skin discoloration or lesions. Long-term exposure—described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as between five to 20 years—could increase risks for cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes, and reproductive problems.

Margaret Karagas, senior study author and director of the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire explained that while drinking water is regularly tested for the heavy metal and guidelines exist—10 micrograms per liter—monitoring and regulation does not exist for rice and other foods, reported Businessweek.

“Rice is a nutritious food so we are not making a dietary recommendation that women avoid it,” Karagas told Businessweek in a telephone interview. “What we would like to see is for our food to be monitored for the presence of arsenic and regulated to keep it below certain levels,” she added. Exposure to arsenic may be related to premature births, low birth-weights, and other adverse pregnancy outcomes, Karagas said, noting that “Developing fetuses may be more vulnerable to environmental agents.”

Private well water is also a source for higher arsenic concentration, explained Karagas, who is an epidemiologist and professor at Dartmouth Medical School. Karagas and her research team suggest that people with private wells be sure to regularly test their water for arsenic levels, said Businessweek.

Meanwhile arsenic levels in rice vary and are dependent on where the rice is grown, among other factors, said Karagas. Because of this, explained Businessweek, the researchers are not recommending that pregnant women drop rice from their diets. “This is why it is so important to study which species and growing conditions result in higher levels of arsenic so we can avoid them,” Karagas said, wrote Businessweek.

We recently wrote about another study that revealed that arsenic in some apple juice may exceed established, federal standards. That study was released by Consumer Reports magazine and indicated that some samples exceeded federal drinking water standards, which poses health risks.

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