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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

Minerals: Is Arsenic Nutritionally Essential?

Updated: Oct 25, 2023


Arsenic bottles
Green: the colour of arsenic


Introduction

When we hear the word "arsenic," it often evokes thoughts of a highly toxic substance and a potential threat to human health. While this perception accurately describes inorganic arsenic, a harmful form of this element, there's another side to arsenic that might come as a surprise. In its organic form, arsenic plays an essential role in maintaining our health and well-being.


This blog post delves into the intriguing connection between organic arsenic and vitamin B6, shedding light on their vital roles in human health. It also explains the critical distinction between organic and inorganic arsenic and their respective impacts on our well-being, with a focus on New Zealand's sources of toxic inorganic arsenic.


Considering the role of arsenic in nutrition, HTMA testing provides undeniable proof that New Zealand is facing a substantial health issue from the harmful effects of inorganic arsenic. This article and the related material I've included explain my grave concerns.



HTMA chart
Elevated arsenic from bathing in geothermal water


The Organic vs. Inorganic Arsenic Distinction

Arsenic, a naturally occurring element, exists in various forms, with inorganic and organic arsenic being the most relevant to human health.

  1. Inorganic Arsenic: Inorganic arsenic compounds are well-known for their high toxicity and potential health risks. These compounds are typically found in minerals and may contaminate groundwater, posing a significant threat to human health if consumed. Chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic is associated with various adverse health effects, including an increased risk of cancer, skin lesions, cardiovascular issues, and neurodevelopmental problems. In New Zealand, common sources of inorganic arsenic contamination include geothermal water, mining activities, treated soft timber such as pine, and historical pesticide use.

  2. Organic Arsenic: In contrast, organic arsenic compounds, found in certain seafood and marine organisms, are considered less toxic and, in some cases, even beneficial to human health. These organic forms, such as arsenobetaine and arsenocholine, are typically harmless and easily excreted from the body when consumed. Organic arsenic is an integral part of our diet, particularly through seafood consumption.

The Connection Between Organic Arsenic and Vitamin B6

Now, let's explore the intriguing connection between organic arsenic and vitamin B6, two elements that work together to support human health.

  1. Arsenic Methylation: Organic arsenic compounds in seafood are methylated in the human body, a process that involves adding a methyl group to the arsenic molecule. Vitamin B6 plays a pivotal role in these methylation reactions by acting as a cofactor for specific enzymes. This helps in converting inorganic arsenic into less toxic, methylated forms, such as dimethylarsinic acid (DMA).

  2. Detoxification: Methylation of arsenic is an essential part of the body's detoxification process. With the support of vitamin B6, the body can safely transform and remove arsenic through urine. This mechanism is crucial in preventing the buildup of toxic forms of arsenic, which could otherwise be harmful to human health.

  3. Maintaining a Balance: Arsenic in its organic forms is generally considered non-toxic to humans. However, maintaining a balance between organic arsenic and its interaction with vitamin B6 is essential. Adequate vitamin B6 levels make sure that the methylation and detoxification processes function optimally, protecting us from the potential risks of excessive arsenic exposure.

Abstract

Although numerous studies with rats, hamsters, minipigs, goats and chicks have indicated that arsenic is an essential nutrient, the physiological role of arsenic is open to conjecture. Recent studies have suggested that arsenic has a physiological role that affects the formation of various metabolites of methionine metabolism including taurine and the polyamines. The concentration of plasma taurine is decreased in arsenic-deprived rats and hamsters. The hepatic concentration of polyamines and the specific activity of an enzyme necessary for the synthesis of spermidine and spermine, S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase, are also decreased in arsenic-deprived rats. Thus, evidence has been obtained which indicates that arsenic is of physiological importance, especially when methionine metabolism is stressed (e.g. pregnancy, lactation, methionine deficiency, vitamin B6 deprivation). Any possible nutritional requirement by humans can be estimated only by using data from animal studies. The arsenic requirement for growing chicks and rats has been suggested to be near 25 ng g(-1) diet. Thus, a possible human requirement is 12 μg day(-1). The reported arsenic content of diets from various parts of the world indicates that the average intake of arsenic is in the range of 12-40 μg. Fish, grain and cereal products contribute most arsenic to the diet.

Inorganic and Organic Arsenic in New Zealand

In New Zealand, where geothermal water sources, our love affair with soft timbers, and historical agricultural practises have contributed to inorganic arsenic contamination, it's vital to distinguish between inorganic and organic arsenic. Organic arsenic found in seafood remains a safe and valuable source of this element, contributing to our overall well-being.


Conclusion

While arsenic may have a reputation for toxicity, its organic forms play an intriguing and symbiotic role with vitamin B6 in maintaining our overall well-being. The critical distinction between organic and inorganic arsenic highlights the importance of consuming a well-rounded diet that provides essential vitamins and minerals.


In New Zealand, where contamination of inorganic arsenic is widespread, consuming foods with B6 and trace amounts of organic arsenic may be more important than if living in other countries.


By including seafood in your diet, you can promote a healthy and harmonious relationship between organic arsenic and vitamin B6, contributing to your overall health and well-being.


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