Arsenic

Arsenic is a chemical element found in many minerals, usually present in combination with sulfur and metals, but also as a pure elemental crystal.

Updated: October 13, 2021

Arsenic:

Arsenic is a chemical element found in many minerals, usually present in combination with sulfur and metals, but also as a pure elemental crystal.

Some facts about Arsenic:

  • Arsenic is found in several foods including seafood, poultry, grains (especially rice), bread, cereal products, mushrooms and dairy products.
  • Arsenic is used as a part of homeopathic remedies that are extremely diluted. These remedies can be used for digestive disorders, food poisoning, insomnia, anxiety, depression, allergies and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Arsenic is also used in traditional Chinese medicine formulas and used for treating psoriasis, asthma, syphilis, joint pain or rheumatism, hemorrhoids, cough, itchiness and cancer.
  • It can also be used as an anti-inflammatory agent to reduce swelling and as a general tonic and pain killer.
  • Acute promyelocytic leukemia which is a type of blood cancer can be treated by giving arsenic trioxide intravenously (by IV).
  • Arsenic is a natural component and is distributed widely throughout the environment in the air, water and land.
  • The inorganic form of Arsenic is highly toxic.
  • Long term exposure to inorganic arsenic can be a cause of chronic arsenic poisoning. this can happen either through drinking water or food.
  • Arsenic originates from contaminated groundwater is the greatest threat to public health as it is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of a number of countries.
  • Drinking water, crops irrigated with contaminated water or food prepared with contaminated water could be the sources of exposure to arsenic.
  • Arsenic is found in in seafood in its less toxic organic form.
  • There can be a high levels of arsenic in people who consume raw opium for long periods of time.
  • Calcium supplements made from algae or shells may contain some measurable levels of arsenic.
  • A dietary requirement of 12 to 25 mcg/day of arsenic is recommended and the daily estimated intake of arsenic from a typical diet is 12 to 50 mcg. for an adult.
  • Inorganic arsenic is the most significant chemical contaminant present in drinking water world wide. It is also carcinogen.
  • Inorganic arsenic compounds which are found in drinking water are highly toxic while organic arsenic compounds which are found in seafood are less harmful to health.

Uses & Effectiveness of Arsenic:

A specific prescription only intravenous medication containing arsenic is used for treating acute promyelocytic leukemia which is a certain type of blood cancer.

Side Effects of Arsenic:

  • Organic arsenic which is naturally found in foods does not seem to cause any harm and is likely safe when eaten in normal food amounts.
  • Arsenic trioxide (Trisenox) is an FDA-approved prescription drug which is likely safe when given intravenously (by IV) to adults by a healthcare provider.
  • Inorganic arsenic are likely unsafe when taken by mouth. These can be very poisonous, even in small doses.
  • Taking 10 mcg/kg daily over a long period of time can produce symptoms of arsenic poisoning.
  • Taking 5 mg of arsenic or sometimes even less, can cause symptoms of digestive tract.
  • Severe poisoning and death can be a result of higher dose of arsenic.
  • Inorganic arsenic can be a cause of human cancer.
  • The level of arsenic in drinking water is permissible up to 10 mcg/L.
  • Long term exposure to arsenic at a level of 50 mcg/L in drinking water is associated with reduced scores on intelligence tests in children.
  • Vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea are some of the immediate symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning which can be followed by numbness and tingling of the extremities as well as muscle cramping and death in extreme cases.
  • Pigmentation changes, skin lesions and hard patches on the palms and soles of the feet known as hyperkeratosis are some of the symptoms of long term exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic associated with skin.
  • A minimum exposure of five years to inorganic arsenic can lead to these skin problems and can lead to skin cancer.
  • Long term exposure to arsenic can also cause bladder and lungs cancer.
  • Arsenic and compounds of arsenicare classified as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Arsenic in drinking water is also carcinogenic to humans according to them.
  • Developmental effects, diabetes, pulmonary disease and cardiovascular disease are some of the other adverse health effects that may be associated with long term ingestion of inorganic arsenic.
  • Arsenic induced myocardial infarction can be a significant cause of excess mortality
  • Adverse pregnancy outcomes and infant mortality with impacts on child health can occur due to Arsenic.
  • Mortality in young adults due to multiple cancers, lung disease, heart attacks and kidney failure increases with exposure of arsenic in utero and in early childhood.
  • It is found that there is a negative impacts of arsenic exposure on intelligence, cognitive development and memory of children.

Precautions & Warnings of Arsenic:

  • Arsenic is likely safe for children when eaten in normal food amounts.
  • Organic arsenic does not seem to cause any harm where as inorganic arsenic are likely unsafe for children when taken by mouth.
  • Arsenic is likely safe for women who are pregnant or breast feeding when eaten in normal food amounts.
  • Do not take arsenic supplements if you are pregnant or breast feeding as inorganic arsenic are likely unsafe for women who are pregnant or breast feeding when taken by mouth.
  • The deficiency of folic acid can changes the way the body processes and removes arsenic and may contribute to higher arsenic levels.
  • Heart rhythm in some patients can be affected by Arsenic trioxide or Trisenox.

Interactions of Arsenic:

  • Taking arsenic along with medications that can cause an irregular heartbeat can cause serious side effects including heart arrhythmias as some forms of arsenic can cause an abnormal heartbeat.
  • Miodarone (Cordarone), disopyramide (Norpace), dofetilide (Tikosyn), ibutilide (Corvert), procainamide (Pronestyl), quinidine, sotalol (Betapace) and thioridazine (Mellaril) are some of the medications that can cause an irregular heartbeat.

Dosing of Arsenic:

Prescription only arsenic can be given intravenously (by IV) by healthcare providers fr treating a certain type of leukemia.

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