Arsenic is most famous for being a deadly poison. However, organic arsenic is actually an essential nutrient and up to 20 milligrams (mg) of this nutrient can be found in the human body. In this article I will be discussing this nutrient in greater detail and providing you with a summary of its main functions, the best food sources, the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) and the potentially adverse effects of consuming too much or too little.
Ancient people were aware of arsenic and it is believed to have been mined by the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. In 1250 Albert Magnus (known as Magnus the Greek) became the first person to isolate arsenic by heating orpiment (an arsenic compound) and soap together.
Arsenic is often thought of as a dangerous poison. However, there are actually two forms of this element; organic (an essential nutrient which comes from plants and animals and is not toxic) and inorganic (a poisonous substance which comes from soil and water and can be toxic in very small quantities). Whilst the exact role of organic arsenic in the body is unclear, research suggests it may support the metabolism of methionine (an essential amino acid which is needed for proper growth), control gene expression, support reproductive health and treat digestive problems.
Since arsenic has only recently been classified as an essential nutrient it has no official RDA. However, most sources recommend consuming between 0.0125 milligrams (mg) and 0.025mg of this nutrient each day. Organic arsenic has no tolerable upper limit (TUL) and consuming high levels is not thought to be dangerous.
However, consuming 1mg or more of inorganic arsenic is dangerous and can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms.
4) FOOD SOURCES:
Most foods contain some organic arsenic which means the majority of diets will supply you with adequate levels of this nutrient. Since arsenic is a relatively new addition to the family of essential nutrients the exact amounts in foods are not yet known. However, food groups such as breads and cereals (0.00245mg per 100 grams (g)), fats and oils (0.0019mg per 100g), fish (0.1662mg per 100g) and meats (0.00243mg per 100g) are all considered good sources or organic arsenic.
5) OVERDOSE SYMPTOMS:
Organic arsenic (the main type found in foods) has no known overdose symptoms, even when large amounts are consumed. However, inorganic arsenic (which can in rare circumstances contaminate water supplies) is known to be toxic in doses of 1mg and above and can cause anemia (a low red blood cell count), arsenism (a condition which leads to the development of horny skin and a change in skin pigmentation), cancer, depression, gastrointestinal problems, liver damage, nerve damage and in the worst cases death.
6) DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS:
As discussed above, arsenic is found in almost every food so a deficiency is rare. If a deficiency does develop it can lead to abnormal growth, heart problems and skeletal problems.