From Health Facts
Jump to: navigation, search
Latest Edit: Iva Lloyd, ND 2014-02-17 (EDT)

Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment in both highly toxic and non-toxic forms. Arsenic is a very trace mineral in the body. The exact benefits have not been established, but it appears that it may be beneficial in metabolizing methionine.[1].

Arsenic is typically considered an environmental toxin and heavy metal. Exposure to arsenic is a public health concern due to its adverse neurological and cardiovascular effects, as well as its carcinogenic potential. Historically arsenic has been used as a poison.


Arsenic occurs naturally in three forms. Arsenic in the form of arsenite is the most toxic form and is of substantial public health concern, while alkane arsenicals are of low toxicity, and elemental arsenic is almost non-toxic. Humans are regularly exposed to arsenic through mining processes, seafood, groundwater, pesticides, pigments, and industry. There have been epidemics of arsenic poisoning throughout history, most notably in Japan with contaminated formula in 1955, the Staffordshire Beer Epidemic in the early 1900s, and most notably the millions of people in India and Bangladesh suffering from chronic arsenicalism from contaminated water.[2], [3]


  • Arsenic can be found in seafood, but is generally in the organic arsenical form which is rapidly metabolized and excreted in the urine.[2]
  • Other natural food sources which contain arsenic include breads and cereals, fish and meats and starchy vegetables.
  • Industry:
  • Arsenic is found in high levels in mining, glass and metal manufacturing, and electronics production.[3]
  • Environment
  • Arsenic is naturally occurring and may contaminate drinking water when water sources are located close to large geologic deposits of arsenic.[3]
  • Children may be exposed to arsenic from playing on playground equipment treated with arsenic containing wood preservatives. For this reason the EPA no longer allows the use of arsenic in wood preservation for residential uses.[3]
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Historically arsenic was used in dilute concentrations to treat syphilis and other infections. Arsenic is still found in melarsoprol which is used to treat African sleeping sickness.
  • Recently arsenic trioxide was approved as a chemotherapeutic agent for leukemia.[3]
  • Agriculture
  • Arsenic is commonly found in insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and wood preservatives.[3]
  • Supplements
  • Some contaminated Ayurvedic medications and herbal products may contain arsenic.[2]


  • Homeopathic preparations have been used for digestive problems such as burning pain and symptoms of dehydration.

Deficiency Symptoms

  • No proven deficiency symptoms exist.

Associated Conditions

Conditions associated with exposure to arsenic include:[2]


Common symptoms of arsenic toxicity and/or long-term exposure include:[2], [5]

  • acute symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, blood in urine, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, hair loss, dermatitis
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Malaise
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Skin lesions
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Brittle nails and a change in colour of fingernails
  • Mild Dementia
  • Headache
  • convulsions
  • confusion
  • drowsiness
  • Muscle Atrophy
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory distress
  • Renal failure
  • coma and death are possible
  • lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver are most affected by toxicity
  • many types of cancer, especially skin cancer has been linked to arsenic exposure.

Diagnostic Testing

  • The typical test for arsenic poisoning or exposure is a 24-hr urine collection and analysis. For acute poisoning a spot urine test may also be used.[3], [5]
  • Measures of serum arsenic are not generally useful. A complete blood count and peripheral smear may be helpful to identify changes associated with arsenic exposure. Blood chemistry suggesting decreased liver and kidney function may also suggest arsenic poisoning.[5]


  • Acute arsenic poisoning requires immediate and aggressive in-hospital treatment.
  • Chelation Therapy
  • Chelation therapy with DMPS, DMSA, BAL, or D-Penicillamine can be used to treat elevated levels of arsenic.[3]

Other Considerations


  • Arsenic, other than in homeopathic preparations, is not prescribed.

Drug Interactions: [1]

  • Dimercaprol - Dimercaprol treats arsenic toxicity especially within the first 24 hours of exposure.

Nutrient Interactions:[1]

  • Vitamin C - Somewhat defends against arsenic toxicity.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Griffith Winter (2000) Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals & Supplements: The Complete Guide, Revised Edition, MJF Books
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Mcguigan MA (2011) Goldman: Goldman’s Cecil Medicine 24th ed Chap 21 Chronic Poisoning: Trace Metals and Others Saunders
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Pigott DC, Liebelt EL (2007) Shannon: Haddad and Winchester’s Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose, 4th ed Chap 74 Arsenic and Arsine Saunders.
  4. Grandjean P, Landrigan PJ. Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial chemicals. Lancet;2006 Dec 16;368(9553):2167-78. PMID: 17174709.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Velez LI, Delaney KA (2009) Marx: Rosen’s Emergency Medicine 7th ed Chap 155 Heavy Metals Mosby.