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Exposure to Moderate Arsenic Increases Heart Attack and Stroke Risks

Update Date: Sep 24, 2013 11:38 AM EDT

The subject of arsenic, which is a chemical element, has recently been in medical journals as more researchers are studying the effects of this element on humans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently tested the arsenic levels in rice and other rice products. The agency deemed the levels low and safe enough to eat. Even though the arsenic levels might not be dangerous in the foods we consume, a new study found that people who are chronically exposed to moderate levels of this chemical might be at a greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

"We didn't know what would happen at [arsenic] levels that occur regularly in the United States," the study's author, Dr. Ana Navas-Acien said according to Medical Xpress. Navas-Acien is a researcher from the department of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "It's a chronic long-term health effect. We need to understand that cardiovascular disease is a very complex illness, and there are many environmental risk factors like arsenic which can contribute."

For this study, the research team looked at 3,600 American Indian men and women who were from Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota. The data come from the time span of 1989 through to 2008. The researchers believe that the sources of arsenic in these areas were in the groundwater and food. The researchers tested the participants' urine to check for arsenic levels. The researchers calculated that nearly 450 died from heart disease and nearly 1,200 had fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular disease. The researchers also found that people's risk of death due to cardiovascular disease increased with their levels of arsenic.

The researchers also found that one fourth of the patients with the highest levels of arsenic had a 50 percent increased risk of death from heart attack or stroke. Even though the researchers found evidence of the relationship between arsenic exposure and cardiovascular disease, they did not find a cause and effect relationship. The researchers believe that people who live in small communities with private wells or believe that their water could be contaminated should get their levels checked out.

"The best advice we can give people is to eat food that comes from a variety of different regions, as opposed to being raised in a single location," Alice Lichtenstein, who was not a part of the study, said. Lichtenstein is a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University. "There are children out there who drink apple juice every day. That's risky because we know there are elevated arsenic levels in juice. People need to diversify their diet."

The study was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

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