Toxic Levels of Arsenic Found in Popular Juice Brands pt4

Answering a Crucial Question

We also wanted to know whether people who drink juice end up being exposed to more arsenic than those who don’t.

So we commissioned an analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted annually by the National Center for Health Statistics. Information is collected on the health and nutrition of a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population, based on interviews and physical exams that may include a blood or urine test. Officials and researchers often use the data to determine risk factors for major diseases and develop public health policy. In fact, data on lead in the blood of NHANES participants were instrumental in developing policies that have successfully resulted in lead being removed from gasoline.

Our analysis was led by Richard Stahlhut, M.D., M.P.H., an environmental health researcher at the University of Rochester with expertise in NHANES data, working with Consumer Reports statisticians. Ana Navas-Acien, M.D., Ph.D., a physician—epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, also provided guidance. She was the lead author of a 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that first linked low-level arsenic exposure with the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the United States.

Stahlhut reviewed NHANES data from 2003 through 2008 from participants tested for total urinary arsenic who reported their food and drink consumption for 24 hours the day before their NHANES visit. Because most ingested arsenic is excreted in urine, the best measure of recent exposure is a urine test.

Following Navas-Acien’s advice, we excluded from our NHANES analysis anyone with results showing detectable levels of arsenobetaine, the organic arsenic in seafood. That made the results we analyzed more likely to represent inorganic arsenic, of greatest concern in terms of potential health risks.

The resulting analysis of almost 3,000 study participants found that those reporting apple-juice consumption had on average 19 percent greater levels of total urinary arsenic than those subjects who did not, and those who reported drinking grape juice had 20 percent higher levels. The results might understate the correlation between juice consumption and urinary arsenic levels because NHANES urinary data exclude children younger than 6, who tend to be big juice drinkers.

“The current analysis suggests that these juices may be an important contributor to dietary arsenic exposure,” says Keeve Nachman, Ph.D., a risk scientist at the Center for a Livable Future and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, both at Johns Hopkins University. “It would be prudent to pursue measures to understand and limit young children’s exposures to arsenic in juice.”

Robert Wright, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of pediatrics and environmental health at Harvard University who specializes in research on the effect of heavy-metals exposure in children, says that findings from our juice tests and database analysis concern him: “Because of their small size, a child drinking a box of juice would consume a larger per-body-weight dose of arsenic than an adult drinking the exact same box of juice. Those brands with elevated arsenic should investigate the source and eliminate it.”

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