What is Arsenic?
Arsenic is an element. It is found in the periodic table with atomic number 33, under the symbol As. In nature, it is most commonly found in the earth’s crust. It is a component of various minerals found in rocks and earth.
The main way that people absorb Arsenic is from diet. Very small trace amounts of this element make their way into water and plants. Some plants absorb it more readily, which is why you may have heard of rice as having relatively high levels compared to other foodstuffs. Rice does absorb it more easily than other plants. However, levels are still low. The amount of Arsenic in water systems for public use is monitored and limited to protect people from any damaging effects. However, some people get their water from other sources such as wells, which may have different levels of chemical elements. This can result in people consuming higher levels.
Effects of Arsenic Toxicity
If a person is exposed to lower levels over a long period of time, perhaps by regular consumption of contaminated drinking water, then the symptoms are different. Changes in the skin occur, for example, lesions may appear, and the skin in certain areas may harden. Tissue death and skin cancer can result from these arsenic-induced skin changes.
Other cancers that are known to be linked to this mineral include lung cancer and bladder cancer. Cardiovascular disease is a major result of arsenic consumption, and there is such a thing as arsenic-induced heart attack. Disease of the lungs and pulmonary system and diabetes are also common in those who have been exposed.
Arsenic is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and children. Exposure before birth and in infancy can lead to long term health and development problems (including in cognitive function and intelligence outcomes) and an increased mortality rate.
For all ages and demographics, increased consumption leads to higher mortality rates, whether this is a rapid deterioration or prolonged ill-health.
Risks of poisoning from this element increase if a population has an unsafe drinking water supply or in those who work in specific industries such as smelting or producing Arsenic containing products such as pesticides or wood treatments.
How the Body Uses Arsenic
In the 1800s, Arsenic was briefly considered to be a healthful supplement (despite its use as a poison). People would take increasing doses of it for various purposes, and it was even used in lotions, medicines, and cosmetics. This caused a massive increase in mortality and cancer deaths, and the practice was soon abandoned as scientists began to more fully understand how this mineral changes the way enzymes function and leads to dysfunction and cell death. In more recent times, Arsenic has leaked into water supplies on a number of occasions and caused a surge in health complaints and a massive increase in cancer incidence.