Researchers at Columbia University released a new study on October 8, 2007 that found that folic acid supplements could dramatically lower blood arsenic levels in individuals exposed to arsenic through contaminated drinking water.
Arsenic is a toxic element, naturally present in some drinking water aquifers. It is a significant public health problem around the world and also in parts of the United States. When we are chronically exposed to arsenic there is an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, skin lesions, and skin, liver and bladder cancers.
These researchers found that treatment with 400 micrograms (ug or millionths of a gram) a day of folic acid, reduced total blood arsenic levels by 14 percent in the study population in Bangladesh. Folic acid is a B vitamin found in leafy vegetables, beans, whole grains, and fruits.
"Folic acid supplementation enhanced the detoxification of arsenic to a form that is more readily excreted in urine," said lead author Mary Gamble. "...the results of this study suggest that a simple, low-cost nutritional intervention may help to prevent some of the long-term health consequences associated with arsenic exposure," said Gamble.
William Suk, PhD, acting deputy director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), discussed the significance of this work in Bangladesh to the United States. He explains that arsenic contamination of groundwater is one of the five most common inorganic compounds found at Superfund sites and is present at over 70% of the sites.
Of particular interest is that these results also imply that folic acid supplementation may help to reduce body stores of arsenic even after exposure has been reduced. This is potentially a very important feature as elevated risk for adverse health outcomes persists for decades after exposure has been eliminated. In other words folic acid could be the solution to this serious problem. For only pennies a day, a safe, non-toxic nutrient may be all it takes to remove arsenic contamination and improve health.
"Folic Acid Supplementation Lowers Blood Arsenic," in Am J Clin Nutr 86:1202-1209 (2007)
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