Low-Level Arsenic Exposure Before Birth Associated With Early Puberty And Obesity

I’ve been saying for years now that the obesity epidemic (and the diabetes epidemic) probably aren’t about the donuts. I mean, yes, they’re about the donuts, but it may be more that the donuts (and other foods) are a carrier for chemicals, or it may be that chemicals are affecting our drive to eat (causing us to eat more donuts!), or chemicals are mucking up our metabolism, causing us to store more calories as fat, or inhibiting fat-burning.

Those chemicals I refer to are environmental pollutants … pesticides, plastics, and other endocrine disrupters … that we’re being exposed to at low doses over a long period of time. I’ll be adding arsenic to that list:

Low-level Arsenic Exposure Before Birth Associated With Early Puberty And Obesity

Female mice exposed in utero, or in the womb, to low levels of arsenic through drinking water displayed signs of early puberty and became obese as adults, according to scientists from the National Institutes of Health. The finding is significant because the exposure level of 10 parts per billion used in the study is the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard, or maximum allowable amount, for arsenic in drinking water. The study, which appeared online August 21 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, serves as a good starting point for examining whether low-dose arsenic exposure could have similar health outcomes in humans.

Male mice exposed to arsenic in utero also displayed weight gain as they aged.


The control mouse, left, was not exposed to arsenic during embryonic development and is a normal weight. In comparison, mice exposed to arsenic at 10 ppb, center, and 42 ppm, right, are visibly heavier.

Note that these fetuses were only exposed to 10 ppb arsenic for a portion of gestation, not the entire time. Arsenic was not fed to them after birth. It still had these endocrine disrupting effects!

That 10 ppb is significant. It’s not very much. And water is not the only source of arsenic in our diet. Many foods contain a hefty amount, like chicken (because it’s fed to them to promote growth) and rice (because it’s grown in water and because it tends to take up arsenic easily).

There is no federal limit for how much arsenic is allowed in food, even though the EPA assumes there is no safe level of exposure … any and all exposure to inorganic arsenic is harmful.

Foods high in arsenic:

  • Cruciferous vegetables, including brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. (Arsenic is attracted to their sulfur compounds.)
  • Seafood, including tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, bluefish, and swordfish.
  • Chicken and other poultry. (Given arsenic-based drugs.)
  • Beer and wine. (Arsenic may be coming from the water used in brewing.)
  • Apple and grape juice. (Arsenic-based insecticides.)
  • Pear juice.
  • Rice, including rice cereals, rice pasta, rice cakes/crackers, rice syrup, rive beverages.

Organic rice, vegetables, fruits, and other grains and crops do not have less arsenic, and may have more given their fertilization with manure, poultry waste, and other byproducts of factory-farmed livestock operations.

Why is arsenic coming out of factory-farms? Here’s Dr. Greger:

When you cram tens of thousands of birds into filthy football field-sized sheds to lie beak to beak in their own waste they become so heavily infested with internal parasites that adding arsenic to the feed to poison the bugs can result in a dramatic increase in growth rates. It’s also approved for use to “improve pigmentation.” Arsenic can give the carcass a pinkish tinge, which consumers prefer.

The feeding of arsenic to livestock is also a problem for home gardeners who, in an effort to produce cleaner, more organic foods, end up purchasing bags of “organic” soil which contains manure from factory-farmed livestock, as well as one of the biggest sources of inorganic arsenic, poultry litter. Don’t believe me? Check the label.

I bring your attention to this quote from a USDA document: Guide For Organic Crop Producers, that I blogged about:

Manures from conventional systems are allowed in organic production, including manure from livestock grown in confinement and from those that have been fed genetically engineered feeds. Pesticides, heavy metals, or other contaminants … [are] likely present in manure obtained from industrial-scale feedlots and other confinement facilities.

Herbicide residues have been found in manures and manure-based composts.

Back to my original point. There’s no way we can pollute our water, air, and soil without polluting our bodies. That’s happening and it’s having health repercussions. At some point in the future, probably not in my lifetime, we’ll wake up to the impact of corporate greed and stop contaminating our food.

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