Arsenic is the perfect poison. With no odor or flavor to tip off the victim, it is the murder weapon of choice for many crime writers. Traces of it are so widespread it is nearly impossible to avoid entirely. Now scientists say the more fat you eat, the less likely you are to end up with arsenic in your toenails.
A study in 2008 connected high dietary fat with arsenic-induced liver fibrosis in mice. It warned that a diet high in fat could exacerbate the impact of chronic exposure to small amounts of arsenic. The problem is the chemical is impossible to avoid.
Arsenic contaminates the water drunk by millions of people around the world, but everyone eats small amounts daily. According to Web MD, it occurs naturally in soil, but the amount we ingest is increased by feed, pesticides and fertilizers used in agriculture and the pressure-treated wood found in fence posts that surround a lot of fields.
A new study published June 29, 2012, in Nutrition Journal focused on 25 to 74 year old residents of New Hampshire whose water came from groundwater wells. The Dartmouth College scientists took a close look at the link between diet and arsenic. They surveyed participants’ diets and collected toenail clippings and samples of household tap water. They tested the water and the toenails for arsenic.
Next: A New Look at Diet and Arsenic
What they found was that a diet high in the fatty acids in fish oils was positively linked with arsenic concentration in toenails. So were rice and alcohol. On the other hand, vegetable and animal fats were not. So dietary fat may play a role in clearing the arsenic from our bodies.
The caveat is that diets were self-reported. Our memories can be fuzzy when it comes to details of what we eat. So the project lead, Prof. Kathy Cottingham, cautions:
While there may be a direct interaction between fats and arsenic preventing absorption or binding to keratin in nails, the results may simply reflect dietary preference, with people who eat a diet rich in fats not eating foods high in arsenic, such as rice.
Prof. Cottingham and her colleagues are carrying out similar studies with children. Their results will give us more insight into the interaction between what we eat and how much arsenic remains in our bodies.
In the meantime, the study is one more confirmation that reasonable amounts of healthy fats play a role in our health. They might even protect us from arsenic poisoning.
Citation: Associations between toenail arsenic concentration and dietary factors in a New Hampshire population Joann F Gruber, Margaret R Karagas, Diane Gilbert-Diamond, Pamela J Bagley, M Scot Zens, Vicki Sayarath, Tracy Punshon, J Steven Morris and Kathryn L Cottingham; Nutrition Journal 2012, 11:45 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-11-45
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